Drink milk? Poisoned villagers too poor to buy it

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 September, 2006, 12:00am

'Let them drink milk.' That's what health experts have prescribed to poisoned Gansu villagers too poor to afford anything but water, according to a local doctor.

More than 800 residents - including 334 children - from several villages in Shuiyang township in Gansu's Hui county, have officially tested positive for excessive levels of lead in their blood, according to China Central Television. Of those, 368 are classified as having lead poisoning, including 149 children.

The cause of the poisoning has not been determined but villagers blame a former state-owned smelter in Xinsi village which was shut down last month.

Xinsi doctor Liu Zhaoxiong said the lead content in his blood was three times the normal level but health experts had suggested an impractical cure.

'Some health experts sent by the county government told us to drink more milk and eat more nutrients to lower the lead concentration level in our blood, but it is impossible because we are too poor,' Dr Liu said.

He said households in the area earned about 1,000 yuan a year to support four or five people.

'As a doctor, I am relatively well off, but there is no way I can afford it. We can only hope the government arranges for us to be treated in a big hospital as soon as possible.'

Villager Cheng Lin said that apart from a few health experts, no government officials had visited the village.

An official from the Gansu Environmental Protection Bureau said local authorities were conducting air, soil and water tests. While mainland and Hong Kong journalists quickly descended on the area, the official said bureau investigators were probably still on their way there from the provincial capital, Lanzhou .

The State Environmental Protection Administration has sent an investigation team to Shuiyang, and the officials are scheduled to visit the villages and factory in question.