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Blood lead level testing resumed amid public outcry

(Xinhua)

17:15, March 29, 2012

CHENZHOU, Hunan, March 29 (Xinhua) -- A Chinese city resumed blood lead level testing at a leading hospital Thursday amid public suspicions that its halt to the testing in July 2011 -- which officials said was due to equipment failures -- was aimed at blinding the public to harmful pollution.

The First People's Hospital of Chenzhou in central China's Hunan Province resumed blood lead level testing Thursday after new equipment was brought in from the provincial capital of Changsha, said Huang Shujun, an official with the city's health bureau.

Meanwhile, he said the hospital's old equipment was still being repaired.

The city has at least four large hospitals, but Huang claimed the First People's Hospital and the city's disease control and prevention center were the only two institutions authorized to test blood lead levels. The latter, however, conducted only urine tests.

Starting in July 2011, the hospital suspended blood lead level testing, saying its lab facilities had broken down. "We tried many times to fix the equipment, but the problem still exists," Xiong Bo, the hospital's vice president, said in an interview with Xinhua on Wednesday.

Shi Wenyuan, who works with the hospital's lab, said the testing was halted over fears of inaccurate lab reports. "Blood lead level testing puts high demands on lab conditions and data accuracy. Our old equipment, bought in 2009, is not stable enough to provide accurate test reports."

The suspension was exposed by Chenzhou News, a metropolitan newspaper, on Feb. 18. Last week, however, the newspaper delete the story from its online edition.

Instead of quelling public doubt, the removal of the story caused an uproar on the web, and several local and national newspapers reported on the incident.

Complaints, doubts and sarcasm about the event dominated major online forums, including the Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo, on Wednesday and Thursday. Many people suspected that Chenzhou authorities had deliberately canceled the blood lead level testing program to blind residents about lead poisoning in an effort to protect local industries.

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