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China’s Cancer Villages

Business, China, Company Strategy, Economics, Environment, Sustainability, Technology
By John Richardson on 23-Apr-2013


Source of picture: Wikispaces.


By John Richardson

CHINA has as many as 400 “cancer villages”, with many of the cancer clusters being blamed on the chemicals industry.

Much of the nation’s countryside – the source of China’s food supply – is contaminated with toxic chemicals, it is claimed.

Experts estimate that there has been an 80% increase in cancer rates compared with 30 years ago, when the country’s economic reforms began.

People are becoming ever-more angry about pollution, as we discussed during our recent trip to China.

The anger we focused on was over contaminated food, water and air in Beijing and Shanghai.

But there is plenty of evidence that the anger also extends into the countryside where incomes are also on the rise, as China tries to narrow the gap between its wealthier urban and poorer rural areas.

The old bargain of “we will give you jobs and lift you out of poverty, and so accept a bad environment as the price that needs to be paid” no longer seems to be working across many regions of China.

Hence, Li Keqiang, in his first speech as prime minister, said on 17 March that he was “depressed” by the noxious pollution shrouding Beijing.

Amazingly, (can you really imagine any Chinese leader saying this ten year or even five years ago?) he encouraged the news media and the public to hold him accountable should his government fail to clean up China’s contaminated water and food supply.

“Poverty and backwardness in the midst of clear waters and verdant mountains is no good,” he said, “nor is it [good] to have prosperity and wealth while the environment deteriorates.”

And in February, the environment ministry for the first time admitted the existence of cancer villages.

The ministry said that widespread production and consumption of harmful chemicals forbidden in many developed nations were still found in China, according to the BBC

“The toxic chemicals have caused many environmental emergencies linked to water and air pollution,” the ministry was quoted saying in a report.

The ministry went on to acknowledge that such chemicals could pose a long-term risk to human health, making a direct link to the so-called cancer villages.

“There are even some serious cases of health and social problems like the emergence of cancer villages in individual regions,” the report continued.

An accountant friend of the blog says that environmental balance sheets are not a real concept, just a nice woolly theory.

Maybe they should become a firm concept, bolted into law, for domestic chemicals companies and overseas chemicals companies that export to China.

Pro-actively accepting responsibility now, rather than waiting for Beijing to legislate companies out of chemicals markets in China, is surely the right approach.

And, as we have discussed before, chemicals companies have a huge opportunity to be part of the solution, rather than the problem, by helping China clean up its water, food and air.