Tue, May 09, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Residents of China's cancer villages are paying the price of development


Sitting on his bed in his spartan house in one of China's so-called cancer villages, a 77-year-old retired cadre cries as he speaks of the pollution he believes is killing him.

"I just hope I can die sooner. I gave my life to the Communist Party yet I have nothing now, I have nothing to leave to my own children," the man said, tears rolling down his cheeks.

The man, who requested anonymity out of fear of government reprisals, was diagnosed with lung cancer years ago, which he believes was caused by years of breathing in the local chemical-filled air and drinking contaminated water.

The man lives in Liukuaizhuang village which, along with neighboring Xiditou village in Tianjin 120km southeast of Beijing, rose from poor areas into economic "successes" after scores of chemical factories moved in two decades ago.

But the industry that brought the villages wealth and employment also ended up destroying the environment and is widely believed to have ultimately cost the health and lives of many residents.

Locals say over 200 residents in the two villages have been diagnosed with diseases including bone, lung, liver and breast cancers, while many children are suffering from leukemia.

A report on the People's Daily Web site, quoting Tianjin health authorities, said the rates of cancer in Liukuaizhuang and Xiditou were 1,313 and 2,032 per 100,000 people, way above the national average of 70 per 100,000 people.

According to the report, high levels of bacteria, fluoride and cancer-causing hydroxybenzene that exceeded government limits have been found in the village's water.

Even after scores of polluting factories were ordered to close and the local water was declared safe enough to drink, factories continue to operate secretly as local officials turn a blind eye, villagers say.

Residents say they are simply helpless to fight the factories or seek compensation as they have no legal recourse.

Xu Kezhu, from the China Politics and Law University's Environmental Pollution Victim Support Center, said the group had been trying to help residents sue factories but none of the cases had been accepted by the courts.

Despite receiving national attention, the lack of evidence remains a problem as local officials pressure doctors into staying silent over the link between pollution and the high cancer rate, villagers say.

Factory owners and wealthier residents have moved out of the area, yet for those who are too poor to move, everyday is just another depressing reminder that pain and death are never far away.

Liang Shuli, a Xiditou resident whose five-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia, said villagers had no choice but to suffer.

"There is no way out for us, we are still drinking that water," Liang said. "Where do we get the money to buy mineral water?"

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