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FROTH AND BUBBLE
Hospital visits rise during Beijing's choking smog
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Jan 31, 2013


Nigeria frees long-delayed funds to address lead poison
Lagos (AFP) Jan 31, 2013 - Nigeria has provided nearly $3 million in long-delayed financing to clean up part of an area where lead poisoning has killed hundreds of children, Doctors Without Borders said Thursday.

The lead poisoning crisis in northwest Zamfara state that first came to light in 2010 was called the worst such epidemic "in modern history" by Human Rights Watch, with an official death toll saying 400 children were killed across the state.

The government in Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, has come under mounting pressure from activists to release the funds, saying more children's lives were at risk.

The $2.7 million (two million euros) that Nigeria has made available will be spent cleaning up the village of Bagega, one of the hardest hit areas, where up to 1,500 children are suffering from lead poisoning, Ivan Gayton of France-based Doctors Without Borders (MSF) told AFP.

Gayton said the other seven villages affected by the epidemic had been cleared of toxic material.

"The federal government, through the ministry of environment, has made available $2.7 million needed to begin the remediation in Bagega village in Zamfara state and we expect to begin the exercise on Monday," Gayton told AFP.

In November, MSF released a report that said the contaminated soil in Bagega needed to be removed before the rainy season starts in April, warning of potentially "disastrous" consequences if rainfall caused the hazardous material to spread further.

"We've been sounding the alarm increasingly since November," Gayton said.

Clean up, known as remediation, cannot be carried out during the rainy season and treatment can only begin once remediation is complete.

Lead was dispersed in several Zamfara areas by the processing of ore for gold extraction using unsafe mining techniques. Illicit gold mining is more lucrative than agriculture for the impoverished farming communities.

Local communities had initially largely concealed or denied the fatalities and illnesses from lead poisoning for fear that authorities would ban their mining activities.

Gayton said that when the cleanup is complete, additional funds will be needed to put in place safer mining practices.

Most Nigerians live on less than $2 per day despite the oil wealth in the country, which has long been held back by corruption and mismanagement.

Hospital admissions for respiratory complaints rose 20 percent during the latest choking smog to hit Beijing, reports said Thursday as state media demanded greater government openness on pollution.

This week's pollution across vast swathes of northern China -- the fourth serious case of toxic air in recent weeks -- has sparked anger online and prompted unusually outspoken calls for action even from official media.

The number of patients admitted to several hospitals in the capital for breathing problems rose by a fifth in recent days, the Beijing Morning Post reported.

Half of those admitted to a children's hospital in the city were suffering from respiratory infections, the newspaper said, citing doctors.

The China Daily urged the government to reveal details of the causes of the pollution, saying departments had yet to provide "credible data".

Without such information "the government's promise to tackle the problem may fail to materialise", it said.

The pollution in the capital has been blamed on emissions from coal-burning in power stations and exhaust fumes from vehicles on choked streets.

The elderly, young and those with health problems in the city of 20 million were urged to stay indoors earlier in the week -- or wear protective masks if they had to venture out -- while dozens of flights were cancelled after visibility fell drastically.

Beijing has ordered the emergency closure of factories and removed government vehicles from the streets to try to reduce the haze, but experts say more radical controls are needed to combat the problem effectively.

Real estate tycoon and Internet blogger Pan Shiyi -- who has 14 million followers on Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter -- has started a campaign for clean air legislation.

It had attracted more than 46,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

In a publicity stunt, another businessman has been pictured handing out cans of what he said was fresh air from China's regions to passers-by on the streets of the capital.

Social media users reacted angrily to comments from an official at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, who said developed countries took up to 50 years to solve their pollution problems.

"It will take years and years and cost taxpayers all their money," one user wrote.

State broadcaster CCTV quoted Zhong Nanshan, the president of the China Medical Association who revealed China's cover-up of the SARS epidemic of 2002, as saying: "Air pollution is much more scary than SARS, and affects the heart and veins."

Traffic policemen urged officials to change the dress code and let them wear face masks on duty, the China Daily reported.

"We need masks on duty because of the serious air pollution, but we first need approval from the ministry of public security," it quoted a spokesman for traffic police in the southern city of Changsha as saying.

The US embassy's air quality index in Beijing stood at 196 on Thursday evening, or "unhealthy", after it peaked at more than 500 on Tuesday.

The municipality's figure was 161 at 6:00 pm Thursday, or "lightly polluted".

The meteorological agency said the smog in Beijing was likely to begin to disperse on Thursday evening when the city would be hit by strong winds.

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Related Links
Our Polluted World and Cleaning It Up






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FROTH AND BUBBLE
Beijing issues warnings as smog continues
Beijing (AFP) Jan 30, 2013
Beijing urged residents to stay indoors on Wednesday as emergency measures were rolled out aimed at countering a heavy cloud of smog blanketing the Chinese capital and swathes of the country. The municipal government said children, the elderly and people sensitive to poor air quality should remain indoors, after authorities announced the closure of 103 factories and ordered 30 percent of off ... read more


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