Parents must be given the truth about ‘toxic’ school in Jiangsu

Authorities must get their story straight about the health hazards at Changzhou Foreign Language School as conflicting reports only add to the anxiety

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 April, 2016, 12:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 April, 2016, 1:03am

Conflicting reports have been carried by state television and the Xinhua news agency on whether the location of a new school campus in Changzhou (常州 ), Jiangsu (江蘇)province is making hundreds of students sick. Hopefully a joint investigation by environment and education authorities will resolve the conflict and establish some facts . Regrettably, parents of the affected students do not have much faith in it. As we have reported, some do not even trust local hospitals to carry out health checks on their children because they suspect medics may have been pressured by the city authorities.

CCTV reported a week ago that nearly 500 teenagers had developed health problems after the Changzhou Foreign Language School was relocated last September beside a former site for three chemical plants. Medical checks had revealed blood and thyroid abnormalities, bronchitis and in some cases lymphoma and leukaemia. The following day, Xinhua quoted the Changzhou government as saying the site had passed an environmental safety evaluation and that only several students at the school were on normal sick leave. The local environmental agency said its tests of the campus had revealed nothing unusual.

Thankfully, the CCTV expose forced authorities to agree to the investigation. Among questions to be answered are why construction of the new campus began months before the project had passed an environmental assessment; why the city authorities claim the site is now safe after being covered with a layer of clay in February while CCTV, and parents citing test reports, say soil and water remain polluted by toxic compounds. They allegedly include nearly 100,000 times the safety limit of chlorobenzene. The reaction of one mother of a 14-year-old boy – “we are very scared and don’t know which side we should believe” – would resonate with every parent. Trust and confidence will be restored only if the investigation is not seen as a whitewash, and the authorities do what it takes – including another relocation if necessary – to safeguard students’ health.

The mainland’s breakneck pace of industrialisation and urbanisation has often resulted in development that creates the need for rigorous environmental safety assessments. Another example is to be found at Chengyan, just 100km from Changzhou, where the county authorities have ordered an industrial chemical park to suspend operations for an environmental inspection after children at a nearby primary school began to complain of nosebleeds and itching.