Kids with lead poison are given milk in China

2014-07-16 14:00
(Peter Parks, AFP)

(Peter Parks, AFP)

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Beijing - After a test showed farmer Zhao Heping's toddler grandson had high levels of lead in his blood two years ago, local officials in China's Hunan province offered the child medicine, he says, and milk. In return, Zhao says, officials asked that he hand over his grandson's blood test results.

Zhao was not alone. Eight residents of Dapu, a rural town of about 62 000 dotted with smelters and chemical plants, say families of children diagnosed with lead exposure were offered milk, but only if they surrendered their test results. The milk, residents recall officials saying, would flush the lead out of the children's bodies.

"I still give my grandsons milk, but it's useless", said Mao Baozhu, aged 61, a local resident who says her three grandchildren have all been diagnosed with high lead levels. "Isn't the resident's committee just trying to deceive us by distributing milk and saying all the kids have to do is drink it and they'll be cured?"

Allegations by villagers of the crude attempts by local officials to cover up the health effects of the environmental damage in Dapu by offering milk for medical records underscores the challenges China faces in waging the "war on pollution" premier Li Keqiang announced in March.

Environmental pollution is increasingly a source of social unrest in China. In agricultural areas like Dapu, air, soil and water pollution from local factories can deprive farmers of their livelihoods and rob them of their health. Cancer rates in some polluted villages are so high that they are known as "cancer villages".

The belief that milk can treat lead poisoning is widespread in China. The National Health and Family Planning Commission recommends "nutritional intervention" for children exposed to lead because they may have nutritional deficiencies, among other treatments.

Better nutrition does not lower lead levels, though, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It recommends eliminating the source of pollution and, in extreme cases, treatment to remove heavy metals from the body.

In response to questions from Reuters, the National Health and Family Planning Commission reiterated its nutritional guidance and noted that dairy and bean products could be offered to children suffering from lead exposure.

But it added that its guidelines went well beyond nutrition, and it was neither "complete nor correct" to say that milk flushed lead out of the body. It also recommended removing the source of lead pollution and medical treatment in severe cases.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said it was not involved in the investigation in Dapu and could not comment. She directed inquiries to local health authorities in Hunan. Local health authorities declined interview requests. One official at a regional information office said she had never heard of anyone distributing milk and collecting blood test results.
Read more on:    cdc  |  china  |  environment  |  health  |  pollution

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