Fourth baby dies as China arrests 12 more over milk scandal

BeijingĀ  - A fourth baby has died after being fed contaminated milk powder in China and police have detained 12 more suspects involved in the scandal, which has sickened more than 6,200 infants, the government said on Thursday.

The latest reported death was in China's Central Asian region of Xinjiang, the regional health authority reported on its website without giving details.

Another 86 babies in Xinjiang were sickened by consuming milk powder tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, the department said.

It said about 10.3 tons of milk powder made by the Sanlu company, which supplies nearly a fifth of China's market with an inexpensive baby formula, were removed from shops in Xinjiang.

Police in the northern province of Hebei, where Sanlu is based, arrested 12 more people on Thursday as part of an "intensifying crackdown" on the makers and suppliers of tainted milk, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Hebei police had formally charged 18 people who sold melamine to milk producers or sold contaminated milk in the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang, the agency quoted police spokesman Shi Guizhong as saying.

Also on Thursday, Hebei officials sacked Shijiazhuang mayor Ji Chuntang, who was also removed from his post as deputy head of the Shijiazhuang branch of China's ruling Communist Party.

At least four other senior officials in Shijiazhuang were dismissed earlier this week, the agency said.

Government officials said Shijiazhuang-based Sanlu knew about the contamination of milk powder with melamine since March but didn't order a national recall of the powder until this week.

Sanlu has made a public apology, and the provincial government announced that more than 10,000 tons of baby formula recalled in the contamination scandal would be destroyed.

Four babies have died, 158 children have developed "serious kidney problems" and 6,244 infants were made ill by contaminated baby formula from Sanlu and other firms, Chinese officials said.

Inspectors found melamine in 69 batches of milk powder made by 22 companies nationwide, Li Changjiang, head of the State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), said on Wednesday.

The inspectors tested a total of 491 batches of milk products sold by all 109 Chinese companies licensed to produce baby formula milk powder, Li said.

Officials ordered a halt to the sale of the tainted products which included such well-known brands as Sanlu, Mengniu, Yili and Yashili.

Most of the babies treated in hospital had developed kidney stones and other urinary problems after consuming Sanlu milk powder for three to six months.

Melamine is used as a binding agent and coating for particle, fibre and laminated board. It is also used to make fertilizer. (dpa)