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Heavy metal contamination found in S. Korea's nine mining regions: gov't

Published by MAC on 2006-09-06

Heavy metal contamination found in S. Korea's nine mining regions: gov't

Seoul, Sept. 5 (Yonhap News)

High levels of heavy metals, including lead and cadmium, have been detected in agricultural goods from South Korea's nine mining regions, government officials said Tuesday.

The testing conducted by the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) in 44 areas nationwide, has revealed that eight areas near closed mines were found to have a higher-than-permitted concentration of cadmium in soil, water and agricultural goods.

One region had more lead than allowed by the government.

Of the high metal concentration discovered this time, the most serious involved rice that had 3.51 ppm levels of cadmium, which is far higher than the legally permitted 0.2 ppm.

The government picked the areas out of 936 regions adjacent to closed mines that had been screened once before during the 1992-2004 period.

Inspectors screened for such heavy metals as lead, cadmium, copper, mercury and arsenic during the examination. They also checked grains and vegetable like rice and cabbages that are most frequently consumed by the populace.

The KFDA and the agriculture ministry said the government will buy and destroy all the grains and vegetables being raised in the regions. It said that people will be advised not to raise more agricultural goods in the cited areas for the time being.

Authorities said they could not reveal the exact locations of the nine areas, but said none of the agricultural produce raised there have reached the general market and said the affected areas were very small.

"About 109 hectares of farmland have been determined to have been contaminated in the latest screening, which is 0.006 percent of the 1.82 million hectares used to grow produce as of 2005," said Lee Yang-ho, a spokesman for the agriculture ministry.

"They have been raised for local consumption only," he said.

Others said that more detailed tests are planned for the nine regions to determine the extent of the contamination. Tests will cover medical checkups for the inhabitants. Experts said that even if people had consumed the produce, the chances of people getting sick remained remote.

The government plans to set clearer guidelines for heavy metal residual levels for the top 10 agricultural products consumed by the people by the end of the year. At present the government only maintains this rule for rice.

Heavy lead contamination can occur near former mines through rainfall and underwater reservoirs causing the contents of tunnels or quarries to spill out into the surrounding landscape.

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