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'Cancer Village' blames chrome plant

(Shanghai Daily)

10:22, August 18, 2011

ELEVEN people have died from cancers since 2002 in a village in southwest China's Yunnan Province where a chemical plant has piled chromium slag near the village for 10 years, China Central Television reported yesterday.

The Luliang County Heping Chemical Plant in Qujing City attracted media attention recently after it had piped 5,000 tons of chromium tailings near a local reservoir that feeds one of China's largest rivers.

People can contract lung cancer when inhaling compounds that contain chromium, while chromium in drinking water can also cause cancers.

Xinglong Village, the name means prosperous, near the plant is now more widely known as "Cancer Village," because 14 people had suffered from cancers in the past 10 years according to officials, although villagers claim the number is far higher, CCTV reported.

Some late-stage lung cancer patients were following a traditional folk remedy by eating more than 50 bedbugs every day in an effort to relieve the illness, CCTV said.

The plant, built around 2000, set up a yard to hold chromium slag about two kilometers from the village. The pile was about 80 centimeters tall and surrounded by a brick wall. No tree or grass could be seen near the pile, CCTV said.

"An increasing number of villagers caught cancers, including intestinal, lung and liver, after the plant was built near the village," CCTV quoted a villager as saying.

"The nearby hospitals have received 14 cancer patients, 11 of whom have died, from 2002 to 2010 in the village," said Zhang Xin, deputy director of Luliang's Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, villagers told CCTV that at least 30 people had suffered from cancers in the past 10 years.

"I have four friends caught cancers in recent years and three of them have died... the rate is too high," a villager said. He said people in the village were worrying all the time that their relatives or themselves would have cancers, while people in neighboring counties dared not buy fruit or vegetables from the village.

"We have complained to the county government for numerous times, but they said they could find no evidence to prove the chemical plant was the main cause," another villager told CCTV.

The public health and environmental protection authorities tested the drinking water of the village in May 2007 but found chromium and other heavy metal elements in the water within the allowable standard, CCTV said.

Qian Xin, director of the county's disease control center, told the Daily Economic News that the high rate of cancers might also be related to people's eating habits. Local people like eating salted vegetables and meats that could cause cancers.

The plant was closed after the recent water contamination scandal, but the chromium pile has yet to be removed.

Polluted water in the Chachong Reservoir has been blamed for the death of 77 livestock so far.

The chemical plan is one of Asia's largest producers of chromium sulfate, a chemical leather tanning agent, Xinhua news agency said.

Some of the polluted water in the reservoir has already been processed and drained into the Nanpan River. This river forms the headwaters of the Pearl River, a major river that flows through southern China.

According to a spokesman from the Qujing city government, more than 9,000 tons of chromium-contaminated soil have been cleaned up and relocated by the company.

"The chromium waste contains hexavalent chromium, which is highly toxic and carcinogenic. It can dissolve in water and flow into the reservoir when it rains," said Yin Zhengwu, deputy head of the environmental monitoring unit of Qujing's Qilin District.

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