Xinhua News Agency

Hundreds stricken with tinfoil lead poisoning

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2011, 12:00am

Hundreds of people, including 103 children, in Zhejiang province have been poisoned in the latest heavy-metal pollution scandal on the mainland, according to state media.

Twenty-five cottage-industry tinfoil workshops have been shut in Yangxunqiao township, southeast of Hangzhou , after more than 600 locals were found to have unsafe levels of lead in their blood, Xinhua reported yesterday.

Preliminary tests found 26 adults, as well as 103 children under 14, with 'serious' levels of lead poisoning - over 600 micrograms per litre of blood for the adults and 250 micrograms per litre for the children - a spokesman for the local health bureau told the news service.

A further 494 local adults had 'moderate' poisoning levels - 400-600 micrograms per litre of blood. Twelve of the severe poisoning victims were being treated in hospital while the other 117 were undergoing further tests.

Xinhua reported the village had been a centre of metal-foil manufacturing for 'several centuries', and the practice has been cited as part of the county's intangible cultural heritage. An estimated 2,500 workers - mostly migrants from Sichuan province - are employed in the industry, at about 200 factories spread over five villages in the area.

Nearly 1,000 workers and their children have been admitted for blood tests at Hangzhou Xiaoshan District First People's Hospital since May 28, Xinhua reported.

A 'relevant, responsible' official in the township told Xinhua that although some lead was commonly used during the production of tinfoil, some factories had recently begun using a higher lead content to cut costs and increase productivity. This increased workers' exposure to the toxic metal during the tin-smelting and foil-making processes.

Lead poisoning is a particular concern among young children, according to information on the US Environmental Protection Agency's website, as their 'growing bodies absorb more lead' and their 'brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead'.

The Zhejiang township is just the latest in a series of 'toxic village' stories to emerge on the mainland, despite authorities' repeated vows to crack down on heavy-metal polluters. Last month, 136 villagers - mostly children - living near a battery factory in Heyuan, Guangdong province, were found to have high levels of lead in their blood.