Silicosis has claimed the lives of 12 workers at Chinese quartz powder plants. The mine operators had not implemented necessary safeguards.
Quartz is a common mineral used in a variety of spheres. It is found in nearly every geological environment and is at least a component of almost every rock type. Exposition to silica dust may lead to lung cancer, it has been documented.
"The plants did not follow the legal production requirement. Workers worked at poor environment and lacked proper protection. That's why they were caught by silicosis," said Deng Haihua, director of the ministry's information office, here Friday.
A total of 77 people from Shuifu County, of Zhaotong city in Yunnan, had worked at quartz powder plants in Fengyang county, Chuzhou city of eastern Anhui Province since 2003 and 36 of them reported symptoms of silicosis, Deng said.
Among them, 12 died between October 2006 and December 2008.
The Shuifu county government said on March 27 that 30 of the 65 workers still alive were diagnosed silicosis and 33 were found not to have the disease by a medical team supervised by experts from the ministry. The remaining two workers did not return to their hometown for examination.
Among the deaths, investigators confirmed that two died of silicosis, one was strongly believed to have died of silicosis and tuberculosis, two of tuberculosis and one of pulmonary infection. The cause of the other six deaths could not be identified due to lack of X-ray pictures.
Deng also said that 24 workers were sent to hospital for treatment.
Li Zhengyou, a Tangkou villager in Yunnan, said Guangou village in Fengyang had many quartz plants, where visibility was low because of thick floating dust.
"Our job was to smash the ore, sift and pack it," Li said.
Liu Shuxiang, also from a Yunnan village Shanqu, had worked in Guangou village in 2004 and 2005.
"We wore gauze masks, but the effect was limited," he said. "Every day after work, our throats and nostrils were filled with dust. We didn't know if it was harmful, and the boss never told us."
The ministry sent two investigation teams to Yunnan and Anhui after being informed about the deaths on March 16, Xinhua reported.
According to the investigations by the Health Ministry and the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), 258 of about 480 quartz plants at Fengyang produced quartz powder. Many of them were family-run workshops that used outdated technology under poor management and did not have a legal production license.
The Fengyang county government has suspended production of all quartz powder plants, according to a statement issued at the SAWS website.
It also planned to conduct health examinations among all plant workers, the statement said.