Mainland environmentalists have warned of more cases of deadly heavy-metal poisoning in the coming years in the wake of a recent flurry of lead and cadmium pollution scandals. Heavy-metal pollution problems in the country's hinterland provinces, which repeatedly hit the headlines last year, have taken a turn for the worse in the past few weeks. More people are dying of cancer-causing cadmium poisoning in a small town near the capital of Hunan province , while at least 250 children under the age of 14 near the industrial hub of Chenzhou have been found with excessive concentrations of lead in their blood. 'All the signs we have seen in 2009 and in the past weeks show China has entered an era marked by growing outbreaks of public health scandals resulting from pollution,' said Yang Dongping , director of Friends of Nature, a leading mainland environmental group. He made the remarks yesterday at the launch of the 2010 Green Book on the country's environment, a collection of reports by dozens of mainland academics and journalists covering a range of green issues in the past year. Apart from a flurry of heavy-metal poisoning scandals, the book also touches on controversies surrounding rubbish treatment, dam building in the southwest and the ambitious South-North Water Diversion Project designed to quench the capital's thirst. Citing the book's conclusion, Yang, its chief editor, said the country was paying a high environmental price for decades of rapid economic growth. 'We have already seen the looming adverse impact of pollution on public health and it looks very likely that pollution-induced health incidents will erupt frequently in the next few years,' the book says. Li Dun, a main writer of the book and a former professor at Tsinghua University, warned that the heavy-metal pollution problems that have emerged so far were just 'the tip of the iceberg'. 'Environmental risks have accumulated to a dangerous level and the crisis looms large without effective efforts by the authorities that can make a real difference,' he said. Environmentalists also voiced concerns about the country's worsening pollution despite progress in cutting energy waste and controlling two major pollutants reported by Premier Wen Jiabao during the annual legislative session early this month. Citing the often contradictory statistics put out by various government departments, Li questioned the effectiveness of Beijing's pollution control polices and spending. 'Top leaders have been talking about getting pollution under control since the 1980s but what happened? Pollution simply turns from bad to worse due to the lack of checks and balances that restrict powerful interests groups. We need to constantly remind our leaders about their commitments,' he said. Environmental lawyer Zhang Jingjing said most victims of heavy-metal poisoning and other pollution disasters had great difficulty taking unscrupulous polluters to court despite the authorities' pledges about the rule of law. 'It remains a sad truth, after seeing so many pollution scandals in the past year, that local officials abuse their power to deprive victims of their lawful rights to health,' she said. Villagers in Jiahe county in the south of Hunan were detained when they wanted to have health check-ups last year and some remain in police custody. Local authorities said the move was necessary to maintain stability. Although 50,000 environmental protests erupted in 2005, Zhang said few were resolved by courts.