From an economic perspective, Hangzhou's rapid growth is simply incredible. The capital of Zhejiang province and home of the famed West Lake is one of the fastest growing mainland regions, attracting billions of yuan in domestic and foreign investment. Last year the city's gross domestic product exceeded 220 billion yuan, a fifth of the provincial total. But Hangzhou's prosperity comes at a devastating price for some residents. People from one area in particular - Wuli village in Hangzhou's Xiaoshan Economic Development Zone - are literally paying for the growth with their lives. 'Wuli village is a symbol of what happens when the emphasis is only on economic growth and [when people adhere to] the concept of pollute first and clean up later,' said a Hangzhou-based environmental expert. Located 40km east of the city centre and along the banks of the Qiantang River, the 1,000-strong community is known as a cancer village, the label used for mainland population centres, usually near industrial areas, that have experienced a surge in deaths from the disease. According to the Xiaoshan disease control centre, cancer claimed the lives of 56 Wuli residents between 1992 and 2004. This equates to a cancer rate of at least 4 per cent, well above Zhejiang's average rate of 0.192 per cent. The apparent causes are the 26 chemical factories built in the once-sleepy fishing village since the local government opened up the region to development in 1992. Residents say the factories have dumped hazardous waste directly into the village's water supplies and the Qiantang River. 'Everything was fine here until the chemical plants came. Since then, our lives have become a nightmare,' Wuli resident Wei Dongying said. Ms Wei has been leading a campaign to stop the pollution, a cause that could not be closer to home. Her house sits right next to a massive zinc plating plant and a further five chemical factories lie within 500 metres of it. The village's air reeks of acid and, within an hour of exposure, the contamination irritates visitors' eyes and throats. In the area's open gutters and ponds, orange and black substances flow into the Qiantang River. Together with her husband, Shao Guantong , 38-year-old Ms Wei has been documenting the chemical dumping. According to her data, 60 people have died from the disease and at least 12 other residents have developed tumours. 'Our lives are worthless in the eyes of the government. All the officials care about is economic growth,' Ms Wei said as she pointed to her list of local residents killed by cancer. The Xiaoshan government refuses to admit Wuli's appalling cancer incidence can be blamed on the pollutants from the chemical plants. The denial comes despite the high death rate and environmental protection bureau data showing that effluent levels released by some of the plants are up to 50 times higher than health standards allow. Aside from the damage to their health, the chemical pollution has stripped Wuli's residents of their livelihoods. Locals tell of the comfortable living they used to make from fishing in the Qiantang River before the toxic flows depleted the once plentiful stocks. Their prosperity allowed many of the residents to live in spacious three-storey homes, earning the town a reputation as a 'Little Shanghai'. Fisherman Cao Jianmiao remembers that five years ago he could earn as much as 2,000 yuan a day from selling his daily catch of a few hundred kilograms. Now he is lucky to make that much a month. Three of his family members have been diagnosed with tumours and the medical bills are stacking up. Wuli residents have tried to change their predicament. Ms Wei organised a publicity campaign by writing letters to local, provincial and central governments as well as to the media. A letter she sent to the State Environmental Protection Administration led to a People's Daily report on the village last autumn. That led to reports by other news agencies throughout the country. The negative publicity forced the Xiaoshan government to crack down on the chemical plants. But villagers say the coverage has had little effect. 'The plants only stop releasing the pollutants when there are inspections and then start up again as soon as the inspectors leave,' Ms Wei said. The Xiaoshan environmental protection bureau was unavailable for comment but in past interviews with mainland media, officials said their hands were tied. To placate Wuli's residents, Hangzhou and Zhejiang provincial officials have pledged to move all of the chemical plants out of the village within two years. 'Another two years? I will probably be dead by then,' said one villager. 'It's like telling people the murdering will stop at a certain time. In the meantime, the killing will continue.'