Toxic smoke and forest fires … when honouring China’s dead becomes a health hazard over Ching Ming festival

Lead paint on joss paper can poison people when burned

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 April, 2017, 1:41pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 April, 2017, 1:41pm

As China celebrates the Ching Ming grave-sweeping festival this week, local media outlets have reported incidents of people’s joss-paper-burning activities gone awry.

In Hangzhou in eastern Zhejiang province, health care workers have seen a rise in the number of patients admitted into hospital after breathing in a large amount of toxic smoke from burning joss paper, Hangzhou Daily reported.

Joss paper is the name for sheets of paper or items crafted from paper, such as clothes, cars and mobile phones, that are burned as offerings to the dead in the belief that the items will ensure the deceased are provided for in the afterlife.

Some colourful joss paper, however, contains lead, tin and other metals, and when burned, emits poisonous smoke, according to the newspaper.

Hangzhou’s Red Cross Hospital had received an increasing number of patients exhibiting symptoms of heavy metal poisoning, said Li Guohui, a doctor at the hospital.

They were found to have inhaled lead particles after burning joss paper before tombs, the report said.

Unlike traditional joss paper, modern paper offerings are breaking traditional patterns by sporting colourful paintings.

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But the poor quality of the paint makes burning the joss paper dangerous as burning turns lead into lead oxide, which can be breathed in and transmitted to the blood.

Anyone affected would likely experience headaches and fatigue, and could even fall into coma if exposed to excess amounts of lead, San Francisco-based Healthline Media says on its website.

In Lianyungang in eastern Jiangsu province, reported a large forest fire.

The fire occurred on Xiaotuan Mountain on Sunday after people failed to put out the embers from their burning of joss paper, the report said.

More than 600 people from various departments including the fire department, police and members of the local community helped to extinguish the fire, a Lianyungang government official said.

The fire was put out by 8.30pm on Sunday.