RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
We turn to China now where hundreds more children have been brought into hospitals by parents who fear they've drunk contaminated baby formula. Thousands of inspectors began monitoring dairy producers in china, and 12 more people have been arrested in connection with the scandal that's affected 6,000 children and left, so far, four dead. NPR's Louisa Lim visited one hospital.
LOUISA LIM: Here in the Shanghai children's hospital, the human cost of this scandal is clear to see. Anxious parents are queuing up here in the registration hall, clutching their precious only children tightly. Many of them rushed there after hearing the news of the contaminated milk powder to see if they've been affected by drinking this tainted milk.
QU CHUNLI: (Chinese language spoken)
LIM: We've done CT scans, ultrasounds, blood tests, plasma tests, and urine tests, says Qu Chunli, the grandmother of an 11-month-old boy. It's just torture for the baby. She has been looking after baby for eight months, feeding him milk formula made by Sanlu, the company whose milk was found to have the highest level of contaminants. Now baby Zhaohang has stones in his urinary tract. The family had chosen Sanlu because it's a famous Chinese brand. Now Qu Chunli is beyond angry.
CHUNLI: (Chinese language spoken)
LIM: I hate them, I hate them, she says. They're killing our children. Like so many other scandals, this is hitting China's poor. Little Zhaohang was drinking formula because poverty had forced his mother to leave home to find work, and his family couldn't afford the more expensive imported brands.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SANLU COMPANY TELEVISED APOLOGY)
LIM: Sanlu company has issued a televised apology. But it and local officials are accused of a cover-up since they knew about the problem for at least six weeks before issuing a recall. And the scandal is snowballing. Tests now show 22 Chinese dairy companies were selling products containing melamine. The chemical is normally used in plastics and is banned in food products. Last year, Chinese-made pet food ingredients tainted with melamine killed and sickened thousands of American cats and dogs. But here in China, unethical middlemen have been adding melamine to watered-down milk to make it appear higher in protein.
Unidentified Chinese Mother: (Chinese language spoken)
LIM: The doctors told us not to talk about it, says one mother who was waiting for her baby's ultrasound. It's an issue for our whole country. The tainted products have been removed from supermarket shelves. But this is not even China's first milk powder scandal. Four years ago, at least 12 babies died from malnutrition after drinking fake baby formula with no nutrients. Now the government says it will reform the entire dairy industry.
JIANG XIAN: (Chinese language spoken)
LIM: The scale of this scandal is so extensive it could lead to a big class-action lawsuit, says consumer lawyer Jiang Xian. Outside the hospital, Zhang Ruijun is cradling her 11-month-old girl, Ee-Yan(ph). The baby has been drinking Sanlu milk her whole life. Now her mother simply doesn't know which Chinese products are safe.
ZHANG RUIJUN: (Chinese language spoken)
LIM: How could we have any confidence after what's happened? She asks. It's a question many others are asking here where so many unscrupulous traders put profit before human lives. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.
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