Date
26 March 2017
A coal-fired power plant looms above a polluted waterway in Changzhou. It seems pollution hasn't  improved all that much since this picture was taken in 2007. Photo: Vanity Fair/Stephen Wilkes
A coal-fired power plant looms above a polluted waterway in Changzhou. It seems pollution hasn't improved all that much since this picture was taken in 2007. Photo: Vanity Fair/Stephen Wilkes

Pollution probed as hundreds of students fall seriously ill

Authorities in mainland China have launched an investigation after a report that hundreds of children attending a school built near a polluted former industrial site developed health problems, including cancer.

The municipal government of Changzhou, about 100 kilometers northwest of Shanghai, said that, since December, students and teachers at the Changzhou Foreign Languages School had been complaining about an “unusual smell” coming from three former chemical plants nearby, Reuters reported, citing a report Monday by state news agency Xinhua.

State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) suggested late Sunday that the problems were much more serious, and the case has provoked an outcry online.

Of 641 students from the school who underwent health checks recently, 493 were found to have conditions ranging from chronic coughs, headaches and blood abnormalities, to lymphoma and leukemia, CCTV said.

Widespread environmental pollution is a dark legacy of the growth-at-all-costs development path that China took since the 1970s, and it is increasingly a source of social unrest.

In recent years, the ruling Communist Party has dedicated more resources and attention to cleaning the country’s polluted air, water and soil, but the severity of the problem will be felt for decades to come.

Parents of the students in Changzhou had suspected for months that their children’s ailments were linked to the school, which opened on the site in September, and called for it to be moved elsewhere, CCTV said in an online report.

“In China, only the lives of people with power and money have any value!!” one netizen commented.

“The lives of common people are buy-one-get-10-free!! Right?!! Rubbish government officials!!”

Another said: “Emigrate, quickly. That is no place to hang around.”

Xinhua quoted the municipal authorities as saying that a soil restoration project at the site was underway at the time of the complaints.

“An environmental expert panel concluded in February that the program had achieved the expected results and that the air quality meets national standards,” it said.

The CCTV report said previous environmental assessments had found extremely high levels of contamination in the soil and water at the former industrial site.

Surveys commissioned by concerned parents of students found the water, soil and air on the school campus were also contaminated, it said.

– Contact us at english@hkej.com

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