More Than Decade After China’s Tainted Milk Scandal, Children Still Have Severe Health Problems

A baby who suffers from kidney stones after drinking tainted milk powder, gets IV treatment at the Chengdu Children's Hospital in China's Sichuan Province, on Sept. 22, 2008. (China Photos/Getty Images)
BY FRANK FANG

To some parents in mainland China, Sept. 11 is a traumatizing anniversary, as it marks China’s most infamous food safety scandal: in 2008, a major manufacturer was found to have produced milk powder tainted with a toxic chemical.

To this day, children who consumed the milk powder as infants continue to exhibit health problems.

“My daughter is 13 years old now and she is not in good condition,” said Wang Hong (an alias) in a recent interview with the Chinese-language Epoch Times. She said that her daughter developed kidney stones after drinking the contaminated milk.

When she was about six years old, the stones disappeared, but other health implications surfaced and she was later diagnosed with growth disorders, Wang said. Her daughter was shorter and skinnier compared to other children her age. She was also suffering from swollen lymph nodes, as well as abnormal liver and kidney functions.

“Later she came down with epilepsy … and now she is mentally retarded. Doctors said that she has the intelligence of a first or second grader. She should be in junior high school now. But she can only be homeschooled,” Wang added.

She explained: “I taught her to make fried tomato eggs and how to write eggs [in Chinese], but she has a hard time memorizing them. Her dad asked her what’s the sum of fifty and fifty, and she said sixty.”

On Sept. 11, 2008, Chinese milk powder manufacturer Sanlu Group announced a recall of some of its products because they were contaminated with the poisonous chemical compound melamine.

On the same day, it was reported that there were 59 cases of babies developing kidney stones and one death in north-central China’s Gansu Province after they consumed Sanlu’s milk powder.

Melamine is a synthetic compound with many industrial applications. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it is approved to be used in the manufacturing of some cooking utensils, paper, industrial coatings, among other things. However, it is not approved to be a direct additive added to human food or animal feed.

Sanlu added melamine to inflate the protein content of its milk powder, as the synthetic compound is rich in nitrogen.

It is difficult to assess the true number of children affected, given China’s pattern of covering up scandals, but former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao later said in a 2010 state media interview that at least 30 million children were affected by the tainted milk powder.

Chinese state-run media reported that the Chinese regime would set aside 2 billion yuan ($292 million) to compensate victims. However, many parents have complained of not being compensated, and when they tried to petition authorities seeking justice for their children, they were silenced.

Wang said her family is in financial trouble and the Chinese authorities are not helping enough.

“ My daughter began taking anti-epileptic drugs when she was five years old, which costs us nearly 1,000 yuan ($146) every month,” Wang said.

As a person with a disability, Wang said her daughter got about 200 yuan ($29) from social security and 60 yuan ($8.7) from government disability benefits every month.

“Children are the hope of any family. After she became sick and then diagnosed with mental retardation, it has been a huge psychological blow to me and my husband,” Wang said.

Another parent, Jin Ning (an alias), said her daughter in junior high school is outgoing and doing well academically. However, she often complains of pain in her kidneys, and she also has some health problems with her bladder.

Jin said that while there were memorials every year in the United States for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Chinese people were slowly forgetting about what happened in China on Sept. 11 more than a decade ago.

Jin added that victims sometimes wore T-shirts bearing the words “Remembering China 911,” and local authorities would question why they were wearing the shirt.

“Don’t forget about China 911,” Jin urged.

Xiang Yu (an alias) said he was lucky because his child turned out to be healthy despite having consumed the tainted milk powder.

“The compensation offered by the government was unfair. My child had mild symptoms and was not qualified for any compensation. I filed a lawsuit at court and the court rejected my case,” Xiang said.

Xiang said he learned from social media chat groups created by victims’ family members that local insurance companies turned a blind eye when some parents tried to seek compensation from them.

Because Chinese authorities shut down many of the chat groups and victims slowly lost contact with one another, Xiang said it feels like the country is forgetting about this incident.

Zhao Lianhai, the founder of advocacy group “Home for the Kidney Stone Babies,” has a son who became sick after drinking tainted milk. In 2010, Zhao was sentenced to 2.5-year imprisonment for “disturbing social order” after he helped organize a gathering in Beijing of victims’ parents and accepted media interviews.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer

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