Mine waste blamed for 400 cancer cases

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 November, 2008, 12:00am

Waste water from a heavy metal mine has polluted a remote upper tributary of the Pearl River and is being blamed for more than 400 cases of cancer over 20 years in a village.

The Dabaoshan mine, a large iron and copper sulfide mine in Shaoguan , Guangdong, has been heaping up waste deposits in the open air since the mine opened in the 1970s, according to a report by the Yangcheng Evening News.

Carcinogenic heavy metals in the waste - including cadmium, arsenic and lead - would be washed into the Hengshi River whenever it rained and poison crops on the riverbank, the report said.

'The vegetables and rice from the village are not wanted in the market if buyers know they are from Shangba village, and villagers are not wanted in the labour market,' a village official was quoted as saying. 'More than 400 people have died of cancer since 1987. Many have 'stones' in the body or skin diseases.'

The water that ran down from the mine into the Hengshi River, which joined the Weng River, the Bei River and finally the Pearl River, was still a yellowish red, the report said.

It quoted Lin Chuxia of South China Agriculture University as saying no living thing could survive for 24 hours in the river water even if it was diluted 10,000 times.

The mine had tried to stem the pollution by investing 10 million yuan (HK$11.3 million) on raising the height of a company-built dam that held back the water run-off so the heavy metals could settle, the report said. But Professor Lin doubted the metals would stay in the reservoir.

Wan Hongfu , a researcher with the Research Institute of Eco-environment and Soil Science, said a cheap and practical way to treat the water, which contains bacteria at a level 9.8 million times more than is permitted for drinking water, was to filter it with lime.

To treat the poisoned 739 hectares of farmland might be more expensive, though, Mr Wan said. He suggested growing corn and rapeseed to make oil.