Guangzhou's decision to scrap the plan to build a rubbish incinerator near a smart residential district in Panyu has been widely hailed as a victory for people power, and rekindled debates over such projects. But for people living in nearby Yongxing village, it is too little, too late. Chen Aidi has cancer of the throat. Her neighbour, Fan Tianzai , has lung cancer. Each day, the two farmers sit in Chen's courtyard home in the village playing cards, just 400 metres from the hulking mass of steel that they believe caused their illness - an existing trash incinerator, at Likeng. Chen, 50, and Fan, 62, are among 72 people in the village who have developed cancer in the four years since the 700-million-yuan (HK$795 million) incinerator was built. Almost all have cancer of the throat or the lungs. According to the village committee, between 1993 and 2005, just two of the village's approximately 7,000 population got respiratory cancer. Despite government insistence that incinerators are safe, middle-class residents in Panyu were prepared to take no chances when it was announced an incinerator twice the size was to be built near them. Hundreds of angry property owners concerned about health - and declining real estate prices - took to the streets to protest against the project. A number were reporters and editors from outspoken The Southern Metropolis News, which produced a front-page investigation about the impact of the Likeng incinerator. On Sunday, officials in Panyu announced that the plan for the new incinerator would be scrapped. In Yongxing village, the events were watched with resignation. Before authorities opted to build one in Panyu, no one had been interested in their plight. Fan Zhihui, head of Yongxing village's committee, said the halt to the media campaign was bad news for the village. 'The waste incinerator has polluted our air, rivers, reservoirs and all farmlands,' he said. 'Now the Panyu project is stopped and reports about our cancer patients have cooled down again. Without continued media involvement and a public voice, we can't force authorities to relocate the facilities. Life has been placed at the bottom of the officials' agenda, compared to the staggering profits.' The Guangzhou Health Bureau said the claims of high cancer rates were groundless and all exhaust gas and sewage from the incinerator met the national safety standard. '[We believe] the cancer rate in Likeng is normal and even lower than the average rate in the rest of Guangzhou and the whole country,' the bureau said in a statement after a week-long investigation. 'Our investigation suggested that Likeng's cancer rate is 208 patients out of every 100,000 people, while the average cancer rate for Guangzhou and the country is 275 and 258 patients per 100,000 population respectively.' Officials have long stressed that waste incinerators are the preferred option for dealing with escalating waste demands. The Likeng incinerator burns 1,000 tonnes of rubbish a day and is expected to triple its capacity in three years once a second incinerator is built. Since 2000, the Guangzhou government has regarded waste incineration as an environmentally friendly way of dealing with trash and of generating electricity. From the official standpoint, the Likeng incinerator saves land otherwise used for landfill and generates 130 million kilowatt hours of power every year - enough for 100,000 households. Lu Zhiyi , former chief of the environmental sanitation bureau, said the city was to have at least three incinerators to handle 6,000 tonnes of waste every day by 2010. But both the other incinerators were scrapped due to public opposition. The Likeng project was forced to relocate five times before the government started construction in 2002. Fan said villagers petitioned the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and even though the ministry banned the city from building more incinerators, this did not stop local officials. 'A notice issued by the ministry in 2007 has banned the second incinerator near our homes, saying that it was too close to densely populated communities and drinking water sources,' Fan said. Most villagers there believe that dioxins and furans discharged by the incinerator have led to an increase in the incidence of cancer. 'The incinerator operates around the clock. It discharges dark smoke that almost suffocates me, especially at night,' Chen said. Her house is covered with dust that is apparently full of metal. Dioxins and furans have proved to be among the most toxic chemicals. According to the World Health Organisation, waste incinerators are often the worst culprits in terms of dioxins release into the environment, due to incomplete burning. Officials claim that the incinerator has properly treated all percolation liquid and marsh gas with imported equipment to meet European Union emission standards. But angry villagers said that all air purifiers were purchased from a Hangzhou company in Zhejiang province and that untreated carcinogens were discharged into the air. Villagers said they wanted to find an independent laboratory to do a comprehensive assessment of the discharges from the waste incinerator, but could not find one to do so because almost all laboratories were operated by the government. Chen has been forced to buy bottled drinking water and vegetables from neighbouring cities, because, she said, untreated waste from the incinerator was discharged directly into the village's rivers and polluted all water sources. 'No villagers farm their land any more because the soil is overdosed with heavy metal and the plants aren't suitable for eating,' she said. 'Migrant workers rent the land and sell hundreds of poisoned vegetables downtown. Health authorities know about it but turn a blind eye.' Chen has witnessed an increasing number of villagers die from cancer since 2007. Chen's neighbour, Fan Zhenbiao , 48, died of lung cancer the year after the incinerator began operation, while his wife Huang Yutian , 46, was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. Newspaper columnist Xia Youzheng criticised homeowners in Panyu district, saying many were journalists and editors who only fought for their own welfare. 'The cancer cases in Likeng only serve as evidence of the damage caused by incinerators to health and the environment,' Xia said. 'Protesters never fought for Likeng, and no one demanded the government relocate the incinerator.' Without any financial support, Chen, her two-year-old grandchildren and the other 7,000 struggling villagers in Likeng are forced to live in fear of cancer. 'Playing poker is the only way for terminally ill cancer patients who can't afford medical treatment to kill time,' she said. 'We don't know who will be the next to join us.'