Cancer villages

Last week we heard, for the first time, the Chinese government acknowledge the existence of ‘cancer villages’

When our campaigner Mariah Zhao went to visit one such village in China's Jiangsu province, back in 2009, here is what she had to say: 

When I first saw him I was in complete shock. Farmer "Wang" lay on the bed, his ribs corrugating his hollow chest. His stomach was cut by a ragged stark scar from a recent surgery. He had intestinal cancer – one of many cancer victims in his village near Wuxi city in Jiangsu province.

Farmer Wang's cancer, say his family, was caused by water pollution from the army of chemical plants which surround their village and farmland. The water in Farmer Wang's family well pumps up is black and putrid and topped by a poisonous froth.

Many factories in Wuxi are located next to rice fields. Farmers have no choice but to use polluted water on their crops. In the town, grocery shops advertise rice brought in from other places as "clean water rice" (jing shui da mi). Residents are too afraid to eat locally-grown rice because they believe it has been poisoned by factory effluent.

More recently Toxics campaigner Ma Tianjie visited a "chromium waste dump" in Yunnan situated nearby another cancer village. He said at the time:

The drivers working for the chemical company were lazy and so they dumped the toxic chromium waste in several sites in the hills here. Rain washed the waste into a nearby reservoir killing dozens of cattle and sheep. And the bigger problem is that Liuliang Chemical still has more than 100,000 tons of untreated chromium waste. If there was a bad storm this waste could contaminate the source of the Pearl River and turn it into a toxic soup!

Sadly, this dump in Liuliang County is not the only one. There are similar toxic dump sites all across the country including in Tianjin, Henan and Hunan. They are like toxic time bombs. We hope that we can use this Yunnan example to kick start a big cleanup everywhere. We have taken the first step.

Along with the government acknowledgement of the 'cancer villages' was an announcement of a blacklist for 58 chemicals and an elimination chemical list by 2015. "About half of China’s rivers are not suitable for domestic use, and around 20% are deemed useless even for industrial purposes," said Yixiu Wu, our toxics campaigner in a media statement.

"The setting up of a blacklist for priority actions, which includes DEHP, BPA and Nonylphenol (NP) indicates strong political will. But most importantly, it sends a clear message to industry that these hazardous chemicals, which are banned in various other parts world, will have no place in the future of China."

Image: Doctor Chen Dawei is treating an elderly patient on a boat. When the fishermen are very sick, they call a doctor from a small clinic. The patient, Xu Changlian, and his wife Wang Jinnan both have cancer. Wang’s cancer has worsened; she has given up treatment and is no longer able to speak. The couple takes care of each other at home. © Lu Guang / Greenpeace