Poisoned by waste of 2,850 factories

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 May, 2006, 12:00am

Tai Lake's water quality has been ruined by the 2,850 polluting factories built along its shores since 1990.

Visitors to Zhoutie, a 72 sqkm industrial town in Yixing, Jiangsu, are greeted by a strong stench, courtesy of more than 140 chemical factories. With factories and towns in the Tai Lake basin situated virtually side by side, chemical pollution and accidents are threatening people's health by poisoning water, soil and crops.

Shao Taping, 71, a retired doctor from Zhoutie Hospital, said the town had been a cancer black spot since the late 1990s, with many residents dying from digestive-system related cancers over the years. 'More than 200 people died from cancer last year in my hospital. I know the other two hospitals in our town have also got similar figures,' Dr Shao said.

'So many young people cannot serve in the armed force because we found their livers have been contaminated by toxins.'

Chemical accidents are nightmares for villagers. In February last year, six workers were killed and 11 injured in an explosion at the Tianyin Chemical Factory. The blast sparked an angry protest outside the factory gate by villagers who demanded an investigation, but no one has been held responsible. On April 15 this year, an explosion at the same factory killed another worker. Villagers say protection by officials is the main reason why little has been done to stop the factories polluting Tai Lake.

Li Guangqun, a section head of the Jiangsu Environmental Protection Supervision Bureau, said he and his colleagues faced great pressure. 'I believe not only higher-level officials feel the pressure of protectionism, but the media too. But we can't do anything.'

Mr Li said it was almost impossible that Tai Lake could again be a source of drinking water, although both central and provincial governments have made repeated efforts to improve its quality.

'I can only say that our target is to keep the lake's water quality at the standard of industrial water. It has not been possible to drink water from the lake for many years,' he said. Huang Shuxun, 86, a resident of Xiqiao village in Zhoutei township, is sad about the deterioration of Tai Lake.

'Our town used to be the land of fish and rice in southern Jiangsu, but now has become a toxic chemical zone. We can only swim in and drink the water in our dreams.'