The Ministry of Health has weighed into the toxic metal pollution scandal in Anhui province, but its assertion that children suffering from lead poisoning had fully recovered within days was widely questioned by victims' parents yesterday.
Parents also expressed anger at the compensation of 400 yuan (HK$470) they had received from authorities in Huaining county, Anqing, about three weeks after the outbreaks of lead poisoning that saw more than 200 children ill.
According to the provincial health authorities yesterday, two experts from the health ministry had upheld the provincial centre for disease control's finding last week that no excessive concentrations of lead were found in the blood of 24 children admitted to hospital for treatment.
The experts were dispatched to Anhui on Sunday after more than 100 parents took to the street and protested outside the county government demanding proper treatment and a thorough investigation.
The provincial health authorities were already under fire after they insisted that lead levels in the blood samples of children awaiting treatment at the provincial children's hospital, aged between nine months and 16 years, had fallen from over 250 milligrams per litre to less than 50mg/l - meaning normal - in a few days.
But the ministry experts stood by the finding, citing more accurate equipment and techniques used.
While children were more vulnerable to lead poisoning, they were also likely to recover more speedily than adults as long as they left the polluted environment, the experts said.
But such findings are unlikely to appease relatives of the poisoning victims who have accused the local authorities of attempting to play down the poisoning scare and manipulate blood test results.
Huang Dazhai , father of a five-year-old boy, said he was far from convinced by the ministry experts' conclusion that his son Huang Han had been cured.
A hospital test on January 1 found that the lead concentration in his son's blood was 330.9mg/l. But the authorities said another test five days later by the provincial centre for disease control showed the boy had a concentration of less than 50mg/l. A level over 200mg/l is considered hazardous and can impair children's mental health and affect growth. 'I can't believe the ministry experts have reached the same conclusion as provincial authorities, and how can I believe my son is totally all right without any treatment?' he said.
In the same neighbourhood in Gaohe town 228 out of 307 children have been found to have excessive concentrations of lead in their blood, ranging from 100 to 400mg/l.
Most victims have only received 400 yuan, two bottles of milk powder and some fruit. 'Of course we are not happy, but what else can we expect?' said one Gaohe villager.
Several parents plan to send their children to Beijing and Shanghai for more blood tests because the local authorities have banned similar check-ups in Anhui.
Adding insult to injury
The outbreaks of lead poisoning saw more than 200 children fall ill
Parents expressed anger at the meagre compensation of, in yuan, 400 yuan