Nearly 13,000 in hospital as China milk scandal grows

Mon Sep 22, 2008 9:44am EDT
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By Chris Buckley

BEIJING (Reuters) - The number of Chinese infants sick in hospital after drinking tainted milk formula doubled to nearly 13,000 and the country's top quality regulator resigned on Monday in the latest blight on the "made-in-China" brand.

Four deaths have been blamed on the toxic milk powder, which causes kidney stones and agonizing complications, and a string of Asian countries have banned or recalled Chinese milk products.

The official Xinhua news agency said in a brief statement that the country's quality chief, Li Changjiang, had quit in light of the case. "Li was the highest ranking official brought down so far by the dairy product contamination scandal," it said.

The Communist Party chief of Shijiazhuang, home to the Sanlu Group which is at the centre of the scandal, has also been fired, Xinhua said, the latest official to lose their job for mishandling the incident.

The government has blamed local officials for delays in reporting problems with the milk powder, and an investigation has found that Sanlu began receiving customer complaints about its milk powder as long ago as last December, Xinhua said.

"Sanlu did not report (the problem) either to the Shijiazhuang government or related authorities and did not take remedial action, causing the incident to expand even further," it said, citing the results of an official probe.

The Health Ministry said the number of children hospitalized due to the milk powder contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine rose from a previously announced total of 6,244 -- which included many who had left hospital -- to 12,892, including 104 who were in a serious condition.

More than 1,500 had already left hospital and nearly 40,000 with milder symptoms "received clinical treatment and advice" before going home. The ministry did not explain the sharp rise.   Continued...

<p>Xie Liu, an 8-month-old child suffering from kidney stones, receives medical treatment at a hospital in Hefei, Anhui province September 22, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer</p>