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China Acknowledges Pollution-Linked “Cancer Villages”

BEIJING, China

The Chinese government has finally admitted to the existence of “cancer villages,” where decades of land, water and air pollution has caused the rates of cancer to be exponentially higher than they should be. The villages are typically located next to factories or polluted waterways, the largest source of the cancer-causing chemical pollution.

Cancer takes more lives in China then anything else. Death from cancer has increased 80 percent in the last 30 years, according to the Chinese Ministry for Health.

“In recent years, toxic and hazardous chemical pollution has caused many environmental disasters, cutting off drinking water supplies, and even leading to severe health and social problems such as ‘cancer villages’,” according to a document recently released by the country’s Environment Ministry, whose contents were reported by official news agency Xinhua last week.

As a response, the Chinese government has placed stronger restrictions on 58 types of chemicals and warns about chemical pollution control. China allows production of several chemicals banned elsewhere.

"It's our hope that this announcement is quickly implemented and enforced -- about half of China's rivers are not suitable for domestic use, and around 20 percent are deemed useless even for industrial purposes. We simply cannot wait any longer,” Greenpeace Toxic Campaigner Yixiu Wu was quoted as saying last week.

Over 90 percent of China’s groundwater under cities is thought to be polluted to some extent, according to research from the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Sixty-four of 118 large cities are though to have severely contaminated groundwater.

With as much as 70 percent of the country relying on groundwater, environmental activist group Greenpeace East Asia estimates that 320 million people lack access to clean water, while 190 million drink severely contaminated water.

“Poor environmental regulations, weak enforcement and local corruption mean that factories can discharge their waste water directly into rivers and lakes,” according to the group.

Chinese environmentalists hailed the government’s acknowledgement of the seriousness of the issue.

“The recognition of the existence of problems is the very first step and the precondition for us to really start solving these problems,” the Daily Telegraph quoted leading Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun as saying.

“Before, there was always a tendency to play down or even cover up the issues. If that continues then all these problems with air, water, soil and groundwater pollution and their health impact could drag on for a long, long time.”

Reuters news agency reports that China plans to spend $850 billion USD to clean polluted waters over the next decade -- $650 billion on rural projects and $200 billion USD on other cleanup projects.

However, the water pollution problem is so severe that some experts say the massive investment will not make much of a difference. China spent $112.41 billion USD on water infrastructure from 2006-2010, and much of the water is still undrinkable.

“The reason why they have achieved so little even though they have spent so much on pollution treatment is because they have followed the wrong urbanization model -- China is still putting too much pressure on local resources," Zhou Lei, a fellow at Nanjing University who has studied water pollution, was quoted as saying.

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