January 7, 2010 / 10:30 AM / 10 years ago

Over 100 China factory workers suffer mercury poisoning

HONG KONG (Reuters) - More than 100 workers at a Chinese lighting factory have suffered suspected mass mercury poisoning in a case highlighting the lack of safeguards for China’s factory workers, state media reported on Thursday.

The workers, with the China-listed Foshan Electrical and Lighting Co., had used liquid mercury on production lines at the plant in the China’s southern manufacturing hub of the Pearl River Delta, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

“All six production lines of the workshop used liquid mercury, but some workers seldom took the trouble to wear masks,” Xinhua reported, quoting Lu Ruijin, a manager at the firm.

Following complaints by workers over ill health, 152 workers were identified in tests as having suspected mercury poisoning.

Authorities pledged compensation for affected workers, Xinhua reported, though the state of their health wasn’t made clear.

Over the past year, a series of heavy-metal poisoning cases has come to light across China, underscoring the vulnerabilities of workers and the severity of industrial pollution as a consequence of China’s rapid economic growth.

A factory in eastern China’s Jiangsu province was shut down after causing lead poisoning in more than 50 children, state media reported. Last year, more than 1,350 children in south-central Hunan province suffered lead poisoning after exposure to pollutants from a manganese smelting plant.

Hong Kong-based labour rights group, Labour Action China, said factory workers in the Pearl River Delta, which churns out a third of China’s exports, remained vulnerable to chemical hazards and exploitation, including unfair dismissals and unpaid wages.

Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie

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