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Small community suffers big cancer rate

BEIJING, Oct.9, 2004 (Xinhuanet) — Last Thursday, the long–awaited climate–monitoring system from the Shenzhen Environmental Bureau finally rolled into Gangwan suggesting that the local government has begun investigating the environmental hazards reported by local residents from the cancer-ridden community.


Smoke billows from a Mawan Power House chimney. [YNET]

The cancer report

Eight–year–old He Chaoow lies in a hospital bed fighting cancer. On July 15 he was diagnosed with leukemia. His doctor told Nanfang Daily, a Guangdong-based newspaper, that the patient had to face several rounds of chemotherapy and that his liver, kidneys and other organs would be greatly damaged during the process.

Even if the chemotherapy is a success, He will have to undergo a marrow transplant, which has a 50–percent success rate.

He was born in Gangwan community, a living compound for employees of Nanshan Development Group in Nanshan District, Shenzhen, where his parents work.

According to Zhu, vice-president of the group’s trade union, the number of cancer patients in Gangwan community is significant. “The are six adults and children with leukemia, and five of them got it in the past six years,” she said.

Zhu’s records show that, altogether, 20 employees who work for the group have been diagnosed with cancer since 1998

The percentage of cancer patients is also surprisingly high in Chiwan village, which is adjacent to Gangwan community. There are seven cancer patients in this small village, which has less than 3,000 people.

Wu Li is 46 years old and had just retired from Nanshan Group, was the only one to survive after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

She has been living in the village for more than 20 years. In 2002, Wu’s sister-in-law, also from Gangwan community, died of gastric cancer. According to hospital records, neither Wu nor her sister-in-law carried the cancer gene.

A masked father watches over his sick child in hospital. [YNET]

Doubt haunts residents

Among the 27 cancer patients in Gangwan community and Chiwan village, 16 were diagnosed with cancer from 1998 to 2004 – twice as many cases compared to the 1985-97 period.

The increasing number of cancer patients has disturbed the peace in Gangwan community. Many local residents believe the region’s environment has been affected by the nearby Mawan Power House, Yueliangwan Power House, Nanshan Solid Waste Incineration Factory, Float Glass Factory and Nanhai Oils & Fats Factory.

Lu, director of the Gangwan Community Property Management Committee, said the residents opposed the construction of these factories from the very beginning. When the first chimney of the Mawan Power House was erected in the 1990s, the residents wrote a letter to protest.

However, their objections did not stop the construction. Instead, residents were forced to get accustomed to the environmental changes. Most residents are used to closing their windows and, according to Lu, some 100 households have moved to other districts.

Xiao Congmin, a local resident of Gangwan community, outlined his living compound to Nanfang Daily: “Our community lies n a plain surrounded by mountains. Whenever the nearby factories discharge wastes, the wind will blow the smoke here.”

According to a survey of 50 residents in Gangwan community conducted by Nanfang Daily, 52 percent said they believed the environment was becoming worse and almost one-half cited air pollution as a contributing factor.

The cause

Local residents doubt that environmental change is the culprit for the cancer. But Shenzhen medical experts cannot furnish a definite answer.

Experts at the Chinese Medical Association, Shenzhen branch, told Nanfang Daily that there are so many factors affecting the environment, and that genetics and lifestyle could have contributed to the cancer. Regarding the incidence of cancer in Gangwan community, they said “it is difficult to assert a conclusion. We have to go there to investigate.”

The Shenzhen Disease Prevention and Control Center is more concrete, saying it is abnormal for a community to have so many cancer patients in such a short period of time. The national incidence of leukemia is only three in 10,000.

Since most cancer patients have lived in Gangwan community for more than 10 years, medical experts from the Disease Prevention and Control Center say there may be so many cancer patients in Guangwan community due to environmental degradation and lifestyle.

The monitors’ results

Zhang Jun, director of the Environmental Monitoring Station on duty in Gangwan community, told Nanfang Daily: “We have analyzed some data and the results proved that the air (in Gangwan) is quite abnormal, especially the contents of SO2.” However, he emphasized that the data was only a preliminary assessment that needed expert approval. At present, the monitoring systems cannot monitor dioxins.
Local residents welcomed the monitoring initiatives. Many came up to the work station and asked when they would receive the results, expressing hope that the government would help them improve the polluted air.

Proposal from the People’s Congress

On September 20, 11 members of the Shenzhen People’s Congress submitted a proposal to the government or improving the environment in Gangwan community and surrounding regions.

They claimed that in 2002 the minimum pollution index in the community stood at 18 and the maximum reached 165. There were only 144 days with a pollution index below 50. The major pollutants found in the regions’ air were CO2, nitrogen oxides, dust and waste.

The members pointed out that the reason for the degraded environment in Gangwan community was due to the incompatibility of government decisions.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the city planned to build a “polluted area” in Nanshan District, where Guangwan community is located, installing powerhouses and other factories the region.

However, in the 1990s, the city decided to build more residence compounds in the district, which resulted in a clash of factories and living communities.

Furthermore, they suggested the government carry out a thorough investigation of the environmental situation in Nanshan District and devise a plan to either relocate the factories or reduce harmful wastes.

They also urged the government to work with other departments, such as environmental protection, finance, land resources and energy, to conduct a comprehensive management to address the problem.
(Beijing Today)

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