For decades, villagers in a rural area of Guangxi have seen their rice saplings wilt shortly after planting and found soft bones a common ailment. According to court records and interviews, local residents strongly suspect that the source of the malaise in Sanhe village is cadmium poisoning. Since the mid-1950s, a state-run company has mined lead and zinc in the area and there is evidence that the local water source has been polluted by waste from the mine. Like other fast industrialising countries, China faces a host of environmental problems stemming from the release of heavy metals and other waste. According to an official soil quality report issued last April, 16 per cent of soil samples taken from 6.3 million square kilometres of land surveyed by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and other government agencies showed contamination above state-designated limits. The report cited cadmium, nickel, arsenic and mercury as major sources of contamination in the country today. Sanhe, the site of lead and zinc mining, is home to about 800 people, of whom about 80 per cent suffered from back pain and other ailments, residents said. Some villagers also complain of swollen knees and elbows. Suspecting their health problems were caused by contaminated ground water, about 200 villagers filed a lawsuit in 1999 seeking compensation from the state-owned mining company. A district court in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi, conducted an investigation and found the levels of cadmium, zinc and mercury in the soil of Sanhe above state-set limits. After mainland media took up Sanhe's environmental issue, local authorities conducted urine tests on 530 villagers and concluded that "there is no evidence of chronic illness from cadmium contamination". Residents said the state-owned company started mining for lead and zinc in Sanhe in 1954. Later the villagers took their farming and health problems to government officials and sought remedies from the government. Local authorities have conducted health checks on villagers in Sanhe on several occasions since the 1980s, but none of the results were ever made public. Some villagers say they have been warned "police will come if you make too much noise" about the environmental problem. Heavy metal pollution has been a serious concern since the 1980s when the economy started growing at a red-hot pace. But complaints of pollution-related health problems were largely ignored as economic growth took precedence under the government's policy of reform and opening up.