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Officials in the eastern Chinese city of Wuxi are investigating after workers from a factory of Japanese camera maker Nikon Corp. protested over the handling of an apparent gas poisoning incident.
Local media reports said more than 50 workers at Nikon Imaging (China) Co.'s Wuxi plant have taken ill since late April, complaining of nausea and vomiting from the apparent release of sulfur dioxide in the area.
Nikon and local government officials said the gas was thought to have come from a nearby pharmaceutical company, rather than the camera factory itself. But an official in the media affairs office of Wuxi Hi-tech Industrial City -- an industrial zone -- would not give details.
"It's not convenient to tell you the name of that pharmaceutical factory now, because the incident is still under investigation. The sick workers are being well cared for in the hospital," said the official, who gave only his surname, Chen.
Nikon's offices in Wuxi gave no immediate response to questions e-mailed to them at their request. Reports said the Nikon factory has halted production pending the results of the investigation.
Late last week, the Wuxi health bureau issued a statement saying that the results of tests for hazardous substances at the factory had shown no problems. It said doctors who examined the workers found no serious abnormalities and concluded that any problems were psychological in origin. It recommended counseling for the workers.
According to the Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao and other reports, some 5,000 workers went on strike Saturday, objecting to those conclusions and demanding compensation.
The protest blocked traffic in the area but broke up later in the day. Several hundred workers continued to protest earlier this week, the reports said.
According to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, hospital workers said eight of the factory's workers were hospitalized after being seriously affected by sulfur dioxide poisoning.
The Nikon factory, located in an industrial zone of Wuxi, was set up in May 2002 and makes digital cameras and lenses. In years past, local authorities have commended the factory for its good labor relations.
According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, exposure to very high levels of sulfur dioxide can be life threatening. The gas burns the nose and throat and can cause breathing difficulties and other discomfort.
Associated Press researcher Ji Chen contributed to this report.