Partial good sense

Published: Friday 15 April 2005

Even as the case of widespread lead poisoning in Arica, a city in northern Chile, remains unresolved, the same problem has now raised its head in Santiago, Chile. Chilean authorities recently seized school supplies containing lead being sold in a poor locality of the capital city. The products, including paint sets and crayons, exceeded the safe limit of 0.06 per cent of lead, established by a 1997 government order. The government has initiated an investigation into the matter, in other parts of the country too.

"Lead poisoning is treated as a public health problem and we are working on getting information on the issue out to the public," said Jorge Daz, head of the occupational health department in the regional secretariat of health. He said paints sold for household use will also be checked.

But the government's new zeal to fight lead is of little use to the many children of Arica, who have already been poisoned by the effluents of the Promel metal processing plant. They suffer chronic headaches, joint pain, tooth decay, learning problems, poor memory and skin ailments. They were exposed to lead-laden waste for over 10 years. Neither the companies responsible for the pollution nor the government did anything to help them. Two lawsuits have been filed in the case.

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