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China's "cancer villages" bear witness to economic boom
Wed Sep 16, 2009 8:25pm EDT
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By Tan Ee Lyn
Asia Health Correspondent
HONG KONG (Reuters) - One needs to look no further then the river that runs through Shangba to understand the extent of the heavy metals pollution that experts say has turned the hamlets in this region of southern China into cancer villages.
The river's flow ranges from murky white to a bright shade of orange and the waters are so viscous that they barely ripple in the breeze. In Shangba, the river brings death, not sustenance.
"All the fish died, even chickens and ducks that drank from the river died. If you put your leg in the water, you'll get rashes and a terrible itch," said He Shuncai, a 34-year-old rice farmer who has lived in Shangba all his life.
"Last year alone, six people in our village died from cancer and they were in their 30s and 40s."
Cancer casts a shadow over the villages in this region of China in southern Guangdong province, nestled among farmland contaminated by heavy metals used to make batteries, computer parts and other electronics devices.
Every year, an estimated 460,000 people die prematurely in China due to exposure to air and water pollution, according to a 2007 World Bank study.
Yun Yaoshun's two granddaughters died at the ages of 12 and 18, succumbing to kidney and stomach cancer even though these types of cancers rarely affect children. The World Health Organization has suggested that the high rate of such digestive cancers are due to the ingestion of polluted water.
"It's because of Daboshan and the dirty water," said the 82-year-old grandmother. "The girls were always playing in the river, even our well water is contaminated," Yun told Reuters during a visit to the village.
The river where the children played stretches from the bottom of the Daboshan mine, owned by state-owned Guangdong Dabaoshan Mining Co Ltd, past the ramshackle family home. Its waters are contaminated by cadmium, lead, indium and zinc and other metals.
The villagers use well water in Shangba for drinking but tests published by BioMed Central in July show that it contains excessive amounts of cadmium, a heavy metal that is a known carcinogen, as well as zinc which in large quantities can damage the liver and lead to cancer.
"China has many 'cancer villages' and it is very likely that these increased cases of cancer are due to water pollution," said Edward Chan, an official with Greenpeace in southern China.
But it's not just water, the carcinogenic heavy metals are also entering the food chain.
Mounds of tailings from mineral mining are discarded alongside paddy fields throughout the region.
"If you test this rice, it will be toxic but we eat it too, otherwise, we will starve," said He, the farmer, as he shoveled freshly milled rice into a sack. "Yes, we sell this rice too." Continued...
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