China's environment ministry has acknowledged the existence
of "cancer villages", after years of assertions by academics and
domestic media that polluted areas experience higher rates of the disease.
The use of the term in an official report, thought to be
unprecedented, comes as authorities face growing discontent over industrial
waste, hazardous smog and other environmental and health consequences of years
of rapid growth.
"Poisonous and harmful chemical materials have brought
about many water and atmosphere emergencies... certain places are even seeing
'cancer villages'," said a five-year plan that was highlighted this week.
The report did not elaborate on the phenomenon, which has no
technical definition but gained prominence in domestic and foreign media after
a Chinese journalist posted a map in 2009 pinpointing dozens of such
China’s banned chemical
The ministry acknowledged that in general China uses
"poisonous and harmful chemical products" that are banned in
developed countries and "pose long-term or potential harm to human health
and the ecology".
Environmental lawyer Wang Canfa, who runs an aid centre in
Beijing for victims of pollution, said Friday it was the first time the
"cancer village" phrase had appeared in a ministry document.
"It shows that the environment ministry has
acknowledged that pollution has led to people getting cancer," he said.
"It shows that this issue, of environmental pollution leading to health
damages, has drawn attention."
A ministry official who declined to be named could not
confirm whether it was the first time it had used the phrase, but said it had
previously acknowledged the connection between the environment and human
How the study was
Media reports about "cancer villages" emerged as
early as 1998. Official sources such as government websites and television
stations have altogether reported 241 such locations, a US-based geography professor
said in a 2010 study.
The total reached 459 if accounts from
"unofficial" sites such as online portals were included, University
of Central Missouri academic Lee Liu said in the US-based journal Environment.
The villages tended to be near major rivers, where people
have congregated for generations but which also tended to attract industrial
parks seeking easy access to water.
"Water contamination from industrial pollution is
believed to be the main cause of cancer villages," Liu wrote.
Cancer incidence has shot up 80% over the past three decades
- a period of breakneck economic growth - to become the country's most common
cause of death, the China Daily cited the health minister as saying in 2010.
Today 2.7 million Chinese people die from cancer a year, the
paper reported last month, citing the 2012 annual report from the Cancer
Registry. Frustration over industrial pollution has sparked several
huge protests over the past year and forced officials to promise to shut
Several days of thick smog that covered swathes of the
country last month prompted a public outcry as well as rare criticism from
state-run media and top government officials.
The air pollution prompted a rise in hospital visits and
forced flights to be cancelled as visibility dropped to as low as 100 metres.