BEIJING — A group of scared parents whose babies suffered from melamine-tainted milk called Friday for urgent research into the long-term effects of the chemical, as five others said they were detained by police here.
"The issue of adding melamine into food is a new problem, no one has scientific information or evidence," Jiang Yalin, the 33-year-old mother of a baby who drunk milk made from powder tainted with melamine, said in Beijing.
"So we are asking for research on how much damage melamine can wreak," Jiang told reporters on a roadside in the south of the city after the hotel where the parents had planned to hold the press conference refused to accommodate them.
China's milk scandal, which came to light in September, has had nationwide repercussions with at least six children dying and nearly 300,000 suffering from kidney and urinary problems after they drank milk tainted with melamine.
The industrial chemical, normally used to make plastic, was added to watered-down milk to make it appear higher in protein.
The outdoor briefing, attended by foreign and local reporters, was watched by police in three squad cars and men in plain clothes videoed the proceedings but did not attempt to break it up.
But five other parents of children who had suffered from ingesting melamine were detained in a centre further south in Beijing, according to Zhao Lianhai, the head of the parents' group.
"We were taken yesterday evening while we were on the street, and taken to this place," Zhao said over the phone from the detention centre, adding that their mobiles had not yet been confiscated.
"The police has not given us a reason for our detention and we have asked several times for them to release us immediately but there has been no reply."
Zhao said the other parents had probably been able to hold the press conference as they were not with him and the four others when they were detained.
Beijing police were unavailable for comment.
Twenty-two Chinese dairy firms were found to have sold the tainted milk and the government last week ordered them to pay 160 million dollars in compensation to the families of babies that died or fell ill.
"We are not asking for money, as all the money in the world cannot buy my child's health," a tearful Jiang said, adding she was just scared of what consequences the chemical was going to have on her daughter 10 years on.
Zhang Li, 26, a mother from the poor southeastern province of Fujian also at the briefing, said her daughter, who was just over one year old, had been hospitalised for a long time.
"My daughter fell ill in June and she was in hospital until August, and she still has kidney stones," said Zhang.
The parents' plea came as the official Xinhua news agency reported compensation work for the victims was now underway after the 22 companies had paid money into a fund.
"The fund will cover the charge of acute disease medical treatment and a one-time cash payment for victims," Xinhua quoted the China Dairy Industry Association as saying.
"After the acute disease medical treatment, if those infants develop related diseases before they are 18 years old, they can also get full reimbursement for their medical expenses from the fund," the association said.
Meanwhile a text message apology purporting to be from the 22 companies was widely circulated and received by several AFP reporters.
"We express deep sorrow, sincerely apologise, beg for forgiveness for the damage inflicted on children and society by the tainted milk powder," it said.