Environmental watchdog admits to 'cancer village' phenomenon

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 February, 2013, 6:28pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 February, 2013, 7:02pm

Severe chemical pollution in China’s water systems has caused the spread of “cancer villages”, the country's top environmental watchdog admitted on Wednesday.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection published a list of so-called cancer villages on the mainland which included five in Jiangsu and three in Henan. They also mentioned at least one in Taiwan.

It also confirmed that the levels of pollutants - including endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) which interfere with human hormones - in China’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters had surpassed international levels and the situation was now “very grim”. 

Levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), compounds resistent to envrionmental degradation and are a known carcinogen, were also reported at dangerously high levels. Many of the chemicals have already been phased out by developed countries, it said.

Mainland officials rarely publish details on environmental monitoring results publicly, but Wednesday's findings were released in the MEP's 12th Five Year Plan on prevention and control of the environmental risks of chemicals.

According to the report, 40,000 types of chemicals were being used in China and about 3,000 of them contained “poisonous, corrosive, explosive or combustible properties” (see full report in Chinese)

Reports of cancer villages in the local and international media have become increasingly common in recent years. The term refers to villages, often located close to industrial parks or factories where villagers get sick with cancer.

In 2010, investigative journalist Deng Fei created a widely-circulated Google Map graphic illustrating the locations of at least 100 cancer villages across China. Recent estimates put the figure at 400.


View 中国癌症村地图 China Cancer Villages Map in a larger map

Water pollution is so severe now that close to 70 per cent of the mainland’s lakes and rivers and over 90 per cent of groundwater in urban areas are too contaminated for even animals to drink from.

About 40 per cent of locations the ministry has been monitoring contained water deemed unsafe for human consumption, despite multibillion-dollar clean-up efforts by the government.