Black lung scandal probed in northwest China

16:56, January 29, 2010      

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Authorities in northwest China's Gansu Province are probing into the black lung disease outbreak that killed seven gold miners and debilitated hundreds in an outback county since 2004.

By Friday, a medical team of the provincial health department had completed checkups on all 407 peasants in Gulang County of Wuwei City who had worked at gold mines in Subei County of Jiuquan, at least 1,000 kilometers from their home.

The results of the checkups, however, are not immediately known.

"We'll report to health authorities at city and provincial levels as soon as the results are available," said Wang Tingcai, chief of the disease prevention and control center in Wuwei.

The county government of Gulang has covered the expenses, which averages 500 to 600 yuan each. "It's a huge amount for the impoverished local families that live on about 1,500 yuan a year," said Lu Yonghong, a county official in charge of labor and social security.

At least 314 cases of black lung disease had been confirmed -- of whom seven had died -- in Gulang County before the government-sponsored checkups began last Friday, said Cui Kai, the county's health bureau chief.

All the victims had symptoms after returning home from gold mines in Subei County. Most patients had struggled with the disease for years. Some could not afford any treatment and simply waited to die.

The victims suspected the illness was a result of inadequate labor protection, including subquality masks, poor ventilation and lack of water in the extremely dusty environment.

In a telephone interview with Xinhua Friday, Wang Xiaomei, labor and social security chief in Subei County pledged to help. "We'll do whatever we can to safeguard the victims' rights, as long as health authorities confirm they are suffering industrial diseases."

The plight of the gold miners has aroused widespread concern in China, where citizens are increasingly aware of their legitimate rights.

Black lung, or pneumoconiosis, is a chronic occupational disease by the prolonged breathing of mine dust. There is no specific treatment for the ailment, according to Chinese Medical Association.

In a separate case, 80 migrant workers diagnosed with black lung disease in Shenzhen, a boomtown in southern Guangdong Province, left for home Friday in the central Hunan Province to celebrate the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year holidays.

They have got 1,000 yuan each from the city government of Shenzhen as a New Year gift. Their compensation and medical treatment would be arranged after the holidays.

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