China's Ministry of Environmental Protection has finally admitted the existence of "cancer villages," several years after public speculation first began that pollution makes a devastating impact in certain areas in the country.
The report – officially titled ‘Guard against and control risks presented by chemicals to the environment during the 12th Five-Year period (2011-2015)’ – says that dangerous chemicals that are banned in many countries are still used in production in China.
"Poisonous and harmful chemical materials have brought about many water and atmospheric emergencies", said the report, which was brought out this week. "The toxic chemicals have caused many environmental emergencies linked to water and air pollution.
It is the first time that the phrase "cancer village" has been used by the ministry, said environmental lawyer Wang Canfa, who runs an aid centre in Beijing for victims of pollution. "It shows that the environment ministry has acknowledged that pollution has led to people getting cancer."
The term ‘cancer village’ has no specific definition or meaning.
In recent years, public anger over air pollution caused by industrial development in China has grown and media played an important role in it. Some reports, revealed by China Dealy in 2011, showed that rate of lung cancer in Beijing had jumped 60 percent in last 10 years. Four years ago, one Chinese journalist published a map with dozens of apparently affected villages. And in 2007 the BBC reported on the small village of Shangba in southern China, where one scientist, studying the cause and effects of pollution, found high levels of poisonous heavy metals in the water.
"Cancer incidence has shot up 80 percent 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", said an AFP report. "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."
Campaigners warn that about 400 cancer villages in China are the price of economical growth at all costs. Until now, the Chinese government has made very few comments about such allegations.