Cancer villages in China bring focus on high pollution

A map drawn by a Chinese university student has caught the public’s attention after it revealed the existence of more than 240 “cancer villages” across the country and faulted polluting industries for the incidence of the disease, Sutirtho Patranobis reports.
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Updated on Feb 26, 2013 12:09 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | BySutirtho Patranobis, Beijing

A map drawn by a Chinese university student has caught the public’s attention after it revealed the existence of more than 240 “cancer villages” across the country and faulted polluting industries for the incidence of the disease.

Though never used officially, the phrase “cancer villages” denote communities where a large number of people have been known to suffer from the disease.

The student collated the map and the data from government and news reports.

But the Ministry of Environmental Protection admitted the existence of these villages in a report earlier in February and said cancer rates were high among their residents.

The report is now being carried across the state-controlled media in China, raising questions about the conditions of these villages and what could be done to reduce the impact of pollution.

In 2012, China saw a number of pollution-related mass protests where citizens forced authorities to suspend new projects which were perceived to be harmful to the environment.

“Although such villages are found in around 27 regions, many of them are located in central Henan and eastern Jiangsu provinces. The number of such villages is a sharp increase compared to another widely circulated map published by social activist Deng Fei several years ago. Deng identified just over 100 "cancer villages,"’ the Shanghai Daily reported Monday.

Giving the example of one such village, the Yangqiao village of Yancheng city in Jiangsu province, the report said that more than 20 villagers have been reported as dying of cancer, mainly from lung and esophageal cancers, from 2001 to 2004.

“The pollution in the air was so bad, it was reported, that villagers had to cover their mouths and noses with wet towels when sleeping,” the report said.

In Dongjin village in the same city, nearly 100 villagers were said to have died of cancer from 2001 to 2006 as the result of pollution caused by a chemical company.

According to the news report, the firm offered 70 Yuan (US$11) to each villager as "subsidy" after it was sued by victims, China Business Journal reported.

In a new pollution scandal, chemical companies in east China's Weifang City were accused of using high-pressure injection wells to discharge waste sewage more than 1,000 meters underground for years, seriously polluting underground water and posing a cancer threat.

“The government of the city is offering 100,000 Yuan (US$16,000) to anyone who blows the whistle on companies illegally discharging waste underground. So far, no companies have been caught for polluting the environment.”

The ministry has admitted that China was still producing and using toxic chemicals banned in some developed countries.

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