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December 11th, 2008:

China “Cancer Village” Pays Ultimate Price For Growth

Reuters By Emma Graham-Harrison and Vivi Lin – Thursday, December 11, 2008

Once an isolated haven, the Chinese village of Liukuaizhuang is now a tainted hell, surrounded by scores of low-tech factories that are poisoning its water and air, and the health of many villagers.

One in fifty people there and in a neighbouring hamlet have been diagnosed with cancer over the last decade, local residents say, well over ten times the national rate given in a health ministry survey earlier this year.

Many fear they are paying for the country’s breathtaking economic expansion with their lives, as surrounding plants making rubber, chemicals and paints pour out health-damaging waste.

“They asked in the hospital whether my family had a history of cancer. I said: ‘No, in the last three generations no one had it’,” one villager told Reuters, pulling out his x-rays and doctor’s diagnosis that he had lung cancer. “It must have a lot to do with the pollution here.”

Three decades of reforms and opening up since 1978 have transformed China from a rigidly ideological backwater into the world’s fourth largest economy, lifting millions out of poverty, but not without a price.

Nationwide there are dozens of places like Liukuaizhuang, where factories have blackened streams, poisoned farmland and choked the air.

Just 120 kilometres south of Beijing, Liukuaizhuang was a quiet village before the dramatic economic boom was kicked off by a series of low-key Communist reforms on Dec 18, 1978.

Twenty years later almost 100 chemical plants were scattered across what used to be farmland and thirty years on someone in almost every family is dead or dying of cancer — the youngest just seven years old — according to a local activist.

Officials agree that the area, dubbed a “cancer village” in domestic media, had a huge pollution problem, although they insist cancer rates are below the national average and all the worst-offending factories are now shuttered.

“The factories were not far from homes and to a certain degree influenced the normal life of the villagers,” said the Communist Party spokesman for the county, Huo Junwei.

“(But) we think figures provided by individuals exaggerate pollution problems in our area,” he said. “For several years we have been looking into whether there is a link between cancer and chemical production and have not yet got a scientific answer.”


In recent years, national leaders worried about the mixed legacy of chasing economic expansion at almost any cost have stepped up calls for a more equitable society and cleaner industry nationwide.

But the pollution around Liukuaizhuang was so rampant that a crackdown driven partly by health concerns began in 2003, long before greener growth became a ubiquitous government mantra.

And activists say waste water and toxic gasses are certainly causing some illness there, even if an apparent link with cancer has not been proved.

“Pollutants including heavy metals like mercury and lead have already got into the food chain and all these chemicals will affect the normal function of cells,” said Gao Zhong, an environmental economist with a non-governmental organisation that works to clean the country’s polluted water.

Wong Tze-wai, an environmental health expert at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, said it would be premature to assume a link, but authorities should look into whether the number of cancer cases in the village was abnormally high, and if so, why.

“It’s important to investigate. We know that many industrial chemicals are carcinogenic and it is not unlikely that they can get into the eco-system,” he told Reuters.

The village’s richer inhabitants have backed that view by moving away, locals say, leaving behind the old, poor and ill. Some cannot afford even the most basic health precautions.

“We don’t have enough money to clean the water we drink. We put it all in a basin and let the pollutants sink,” said the daughter-in-law of one lung cancer sufferer.

All are reluctant to discuss the illness as they say health benefits were cut to victims who spoke out in the past, as well as one activist, Wang Dehua, who was jailed for several years.

“A lot of journalists came and went, but it did not change the situation at all,” said one middle-aged liver cancer patient whose husband was also diagnosed with cancer recently. Like all the other interviewees she refused to be named.


Some hope may ironically come from the global economic crisis, which is threatening so many Chinese jobs, as the world slowdown has dented demand for the products churned out from the country’s factories and so cut their waste.

The villagers say some of Liukuaizhuang’s bare bones factories, where paint is mixed in open drums in fume-filled warehouses guarded by vicious dogs, have already gone bust.

The crisis has also spurred Beijing to line up a multi-billion dollar stimulus package. Activist Gao hopes some of the cash will be spent on cleaner technology.

“Now we are facing financial turmoil. There is a good way to stimulate domestic demand and also keep society stable, which is to improve the environment to invest more into this so … the country will be able to develop with quality,” he said.

However there is also a risk that Beijing’s leaders, facing rising unemployment and the social problems caused by a slowing economy, will relinquish environmental goals and ease pressure on the heavy industries that have created so much of both the country’s growth and its pollution.

Many in the “cancer village” fear the clean up is too late for them but they cling to hope that it will save their children and grandchildren from terminal illnesses.

“Of course I am worried, but what is the use of being worried?” said a lung cancer patient.

“We have to save our concern for the next generation.”

(Additional reporting by Tan Ee Lyn in Hong Kong)

State Air Regulators Consider New Rules to Require Cleaner Diesel Trucks

Farm Bureau spokeswoman says they can live with rule

BY JAKE HENSHAW, Sacramento Bureau – December 11, 2008

In the next two days, state regulators will consider giving big truckers new marching orders to help clean up the air.

By Friday, the California Air Resources Control Board may require nearly a million diesel trucks to phase in exhaust filters and new engines at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars and more per truck.

While the air board said it has $1 billion to help pay the bill, small truckers say the cost of complying with the new rules will drive some of them out of business, especially in the current recession.

“It would be devastating to both the local and state economy, not only for the trucking company but their families and their vendors,” said Kelly Kyle of Faulkner Trucking Co. in Tulare. “The snowball effect would be unbelievable.”

The agriculture industry, which uses a wide array of diesel engines, has negotiated changes with the air board staff that its representatives said their industry can live with.

“I wouldn’t say [the ag industry] is happy with the [proposed] rule,” said Patricia Stever, executive director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau. “We are at the point where we think the compromise can work for the industry.”

Preventing deaths

For clean-air advocates and the air board staff, the proposed rule is essentially a lifesaver, intended to control the diesel emissions of tiny particulates known as PM 2.5 and of nitrogen oxides that lodge in the lungs and help form smog.

The air board estimates that between 2010 and 2025 the rule would prevent 9,400 premature deaths, cut the number of asthma-related cases by 150,000 and lead to 950,000 fewer lost work days. It says the economic value of these health benefits is between $48 billion and $68 billion.

“In a way, people have been subsidizing the trucking industry with their health,” said Diane Bailey of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Regional comments

The proposed rule has drawn a range of comment from some regional air boards.

The San Joaquin Valley San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has not formally acted on it, but Executive Director Seyed Sadredin said the Valley needs major emission cuts by diesel trucks because they contribute half the pollution.

“If we shut down all the business in the Valley, we wouldn’t make a dent [in the pollution problem] if we still had those trucks [unregulated],” he said.

The proposed rule is the latest and most significant step by the air board to extend control over diesel emissions in the state.

Diesel emissions from trucks make up 28 percent of all the PM 2.5 and NOx pollution produced in the state, according to the air board.

It’s driven in part by the need to meet federal air- quality standards so the state will avoid the potential penalty of losing millions of dollars in transportation funds.

The penalty for truckers who fail to comply with air pollution rules can be up to a $1,000 per violation per day for some offenses.


The new rule would set out a schedule for all diesel trucks, based in or out of state, driven more than 1,000 miles a year generally to install filters for particulates between 2010 and 2014 and to upgrade engines to 2010 equivalents between 2012 and 2022.

There are a variety of exceptions, including fleets of three or fewer trucks, which wouldn’t have to meet new requirements until 2013.

Agriculture truckers who drive them seasonally or for other low-mileage uses such as fertilizer deliveries also would get more time to comply.

For example, any agricultural truck traveling less than 10,000 miles annually is exempt until 2023, with other delays based on a combination of mileage and truck age.

Specialty vehicles

Further, specialty agricultural vehicles such as nurse rigs and cotton module trucks will get unique treatment.

The state air board estimates the cost of meeting the new regulations at about $5.5 billion between 2010 and 2025 and points to its $1 billion in financial aid as a way to help the neediest truckers.

“A drop in the bucket,” Sadredin said of the money, noting that only about half the funds would go to truckers and the rest to uses such as rail and ports.

Sadredin said the San Joaquin Valley alone needs $2 billion to pay half the cost for truckers, who then would have to cover the remaining cost.

Loan program

The state air board is working on a low-interest, government-backed loan program that would leverage a $50 million pot of aid up to $350 million to help truckers pay the bills, said Erik White, chief of the office responsible for the diesel-engine regulations.

“We think that is emerging as a cost-effective way for the state to spend its resources and still provide relief,” White said.

Truckers said that some of them can’t qualify for state aid because they don’t drive enough miles, and that the recession makes any financing difficult and has already driven enough truckers out of business to reduce their industry’s emissions.

“Cleaning up the air is fine,” said Jim Ganduglia of Ganduglia Trucking in Fresno, joining other truckers in calling for more time to comply to avoid job losses. “They don’t care about the economy.”

The state air board concedes that there will be some job losses if the new diesel rules are adopted — between 4,600 and 13,600 jobs in the highest cost year of 2013 — but contends that the new rule will contribute to the growth of green jobs.

“In the long run, what you are going to see is the California fleet is going to be more modern, more efficient and new industries are going to spring up,” White said, though he conceded that he hasn’t been able to calculate the number of new jobs.

What Do You Think of The Discovery Bay Ferry Plan?

SCMP – Updated on Dec 11, 2008

By reducing the Discovery Bay ferry service, the passenger levels on each boat will be higher, making the system more efficient in terms of the highly polluting marine diesel that is being used.

Look at the cost in diesel used to transport one person from Discovery Bay to Central and compare that with the cost for a bus using zero-sulfur diesel to Sunny Bay and then for the MTR. Therefore I must agree with any reduction in the use of marine diesel.

As to costs, I drive to work and the cost of fuel has increased by more than 30 per cent in the past two years.

Even with the recent decreases the cost is still up. So I agree with the cost increase as well.

Discovery Bay residents should look outside their oyster shell and keep their whining within the confines of their shell. The residents made the choice to live there. If you don’t like it, you can leave.

Please don’t bother us with your problems all the time. Hong Kong is bigger than Discovery Bay.

Terry Greene, Yuen Long