Study reaf­firms ‘can­cer vil­lages’

Pol­luted wa­ter re­sources nearby Huaihe River linked to tu­mors

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - NATION - By SHAN JUAN AN BAIJIE

A govern­ment study has reaf­firmed the ex­is­tence of “can­cer vil­lages” along a ma­jor river, the lat­est sign of fast eco­nomic growth tak­ing a heavy toll on the en­vi­ron­ment.

The con­fir­ma­tion also re­flects au­thor­i­ties’ grow­ing open­ness on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, ex­perts said.

A ris­ing can­cer epi­demic has been de­tected in the ar­eas along the Huaihe River, said Yang Gonghuan, for­mer deputy di­rec­tor of the Chi­nese Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion, who led the study.

In one of the most se­vere cases, the lung can­cer mor­tal­ity rate of lo­cal women in­creased twen­ty­fold from 1973 to 2005 in Shen­qiu county, He­nan prov­ince, ac­cord­ing to the study.

The can­cer in­ci­dence in the af­fected ar­eas along the Huaihe River was 50 per­cent higher than the national aver­age of 0.25 per­cent in 2004-05.

The study was based on wa­ter sur­veil­lance data along the river since the 1980s and lo­cal can­cer rates from the 1970s to 2005.

The 1,000-kilo­me­ter Huaihe River runs through He­nan, Anhui and Jiangsu prov­inces, which have de­vel­oped rapidly since the 1980s, with an­nual GDP growth av­er­ag­ing 10 per­cent.

Yang said the wa­ter in the river has been pol­luted since the 1980s. Pol­lu­tion from fac­to­ries that make and process leather and pa­per and man­u­fac­ture plas­tic have af­fected wa­ter qual­ity. Small fac­to­ries, which usu­ally have poor pol­lu­tion con­trol ca­pac­i­ties, make the sit­u­a­tion worse.

Some places that had low can­cer rates in the 1970s now have high rates, she said.

“Th­ese places hap­pened to be se­ri­ously af­fected by wa­ter pol­lu­tion in the Huaihe River”, show­ing a cor­re­la­tion be­tween wa­ter qual­ity and can­cer, she said. “The study has great pub­lic health sig­nif­i­cance as we’ve spot­ted the most af­fected ar­eas, which would help with more tar­geted can­cer in­ter­ven­tion ef­forts in the long run.”

Fur­ther re­search and in­ves­ti­ga­tion are needed to de­tect and link the spe­cific car­cino­gens to the can­cer epi­demic, she added.

The study was launched in 2004 af­ter then pre­mier Wen Ji­abao told the min­istries of health, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and wa­ter re­sources and lo­cal gov­ern­ments along the river to look into the ris­ing can­cer epi­demic, af­ter me­dia re­ports on can­cer vil­lages.

Huo Dais­han, di­rec­tor of Huaihe River Guardian, a non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion, has fol­lowed the is­sue since 2004 and said the find­ings of the study will en­hance pub­lic aware­ness and draw the at­ten­tion of de­ci­sion-mak­ers.

In 2005, when Yang Gonghuan went to Shen­qiu county to con­duct a field study on a trip or­ga­nized by the lo­cal govern­ment, “it took great ef­forts for her to have a meet­ing with me with­out lo­cal of­fi­cials present”, Huo re­called. “But lo­cal gov­ern­ments have be­come more open about the is­sue they once wanted to hide.”

Can­cer is a com­pli­cated dis­ease re­lated to many risk fac­tors in­clud­ing pol­lu­tion, diet, smok­ing and cer­tain in­fec­tions, said Chen Wan­qing, deputy di­rec­tor of the National Cen­tral Can­cer Reg­istry and a se­nior can­cer spe­cial­ist.

“So more sci­en­tific ev­i­dence is re­quired to build a link be­tween wa­ter qual­ity and the dis­ease,” he said.

Yang said many risk fac­tors are in­cluded in her re­search.

In one county where lo­cals had sim­i­lar life­styles, the in­ci­dence of can­cer among those who drank wa­ter from the river was much higher than those who had al­ter­na­tive drink­ing wa­ter sources, she said.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, “vil­lages along the pol­luted river tended to have a higher can­cer oc­cur­rence”, she said.

But con­di­tions ap­pear to be im­prov­ing, ac­cord­ing to the study. The pol­luted ar­eas have dwin­dled since 2005 thanks to govern­ment ac­tions, in­clud­ing shut­ting down many fac­to­ries that were pol­lut­ing the river.

For vil­lager Guo Heling in Shen­qiu, whose brother was di­ag­nosed with nasal can­cer four years ago and is now bedrid­den, his hopes are at­tached to his two sons, who work in Shang­hai.

“I hope that my sons can buy houses in some other place. That is the only way we can leave the pol­luted land for­ever,” he said. Con­tact the writ­ers at shan­juan@chi­nadaily.com.cn and an­bai­jie@chi­nadaily.com.cn

SUN JUNBIN / FOR CHINA DAILY

Garbage piles up on the bank of a pol­luted feeder of the Shay­ing River, the big­gest dis­tribu­tary of the Huaihe River, in Shen­qiu, He­nan prov­ince. Res­i­dents of sev­eral vil­lages along the Shay­ing River have been rav­aged by can­cer as a re­sult of wa­ter pol­lu­tion.

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