Parents of students suffering health problems blamed on polluted soil near a school in Jiangsu are sceptical of investigations by state environmental and education authorities. Some do not even trust local hospitals to carry out health checks on their children, suspecting they may have been pressured by the city authorities. Many are questioning whether to continue sending their children to the school, which charges 8,500 yuan (HK$10,170) per semester and is among the best in Changzhou. The ministries of environmental protection and education ordered investigations into the problems at Changzhou Foreign Language School, prompted by an expose by state broadcaster CCTV. The broadcaster said 493 pupils had developed health problems, including bronchitis, blood and thyroid abnormalities, and even lymphoma and leukaemia, after the school moved last September to a new campus adjacent to a site that had been contaminated by three chemical plants. School in China orders probe over ‘toxic’ soil, water after pupils develop cancer and other health problems The plants left in 2010 and when the school moved to the campus, a project to remedy the polluted soil was launched. However, the project was thought to have released some of the site’s toxins into the atmosphere. The city’s environmental authorities say the air and soil are now safe, after the project was suspended and the site covered with a layer of clay in February. But CCTV said the soil and groundwater still contained toxic compounds. It said the level of cancer-causing chlorobenzene in the groundwater was nearly 100,000 times the safety limit. “We are very scared and don’t know which side we should believe,” the mother of a 14-year-old boy said.“It’s horrific… the chemical pollution poses long-term [health] risks.” She took her son to a hospital in nearby Wuxi for a checkup, as parents suspect hospitals in Changzhou have been told by the government to give “special treatment” to pupils from the school. “I was told that all students from the school received the same result: that there is no problem with their health,” she said. The doctor in Wuxi found the boy to have a slight thyroid problem, but did not directly link the illness to the environment. A father surnamed Kang whose daughter is in grade eight hoped the school would relocate. “My daughter took a week off at the start of this semester [over pollution concerns]. But she wanted to go back to school so dearly. Every day I am in a dilemma over whether I should let her go to this school or not,” he said. Hundreds of pupils at school near toxic site in east China fall ill, some with cancer, state TV reports He told his daughter not to drink the water at the school, and hired a maid to prepare and deliver lunch to her every day. On January 15, nearly 1,000 parents joined an overnight protest demanding the school relocate. Hundreds of police were deployed to scatter the crowds. They later visited protesters’ homes and said those who worked at government agencies or state-owned companies were risking their jobs. The mother said some students were reluctant to leave the school as they had grown emotionally attached to teachers and schoolmates. Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said the scandal revealed “loopholes in almost every link of environmental supervision”. “The fact the [plants] were able to pump so many pollutants underground reflects a chronic lack of supervision,” he said. The soil remedy project had obviously failed to identify potential health concerns – and China still did not have a law to regulate such practices, Ma said. A lack of transparency over soil pollution and chemical pollutants in general made public supervision near impossible, he added. Simply covering the soil with a layer of clay would not solve the problem, as the health implications of polluted soil and groundwater could take decades to emerge, Ma said.