04/21/2016, 17.29
CHINA
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Hundreds of students with cancer and leukemia in school built on contaminated land

by Wang Zhicheng

The school stands next to the site of three former pesticide plants. Groundwater and soil pollution levels are way above the safety limit. The authorities tried to hush up the problem. Government and business interests tend to protect polluting companies.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Hundreds of students at a high school fell ill with bronchitis, thyroid problems, leukemia and lymphoma after their school was relocated to a campus next to a site where pesticides were made.

Last September, the Changzhou Foreign Languages School in Jiangsu moved to its new location, reportedly near three former chemical plants.

Since December, students and teachers at the privately run facility have complained of an unusual smell. At the same time, they began having rashes (see 2nd photo), coughs, headaches, and vomiting.

Local officials said that a soil restoration project was underway at the site at the time of the complaints.

An environmental-expert panel found that the air quality met national standards.

However, state-run China Central Television (CCTV) noted that soil and groundwater in the area contained toxic compounds and heavy metals, with the level of carcinogenic chlorobenzene in the ground water nearly 100,000 times the safety limit.

After parents sent 641 students for medical checks, 493 were found to have health problems, including bronchitis, blood and thyroid abnormalities, and in some cases lymphoma and leukemia.

Before the TV exposé, local authorities tried to keep the matter under wrap. Many doctors refused to examine the students to find the cause of their illnesses until parents and teachers began protesting in public (see 3rd photo)

Environmental activist Wu Lihong told by Radio Free Asia that "In China, the environmental protection department is nicknamed the pollution protection department, because it's actually responsible for allowing a lot of the pollution by protecting polluting enterprises".

Jiangsu rights activist Wu Shiming said the problems stem from a lack of checks and balances on the power of ruling Chinese Communist Party officials.

"There are strong links between government and business in many locations, because of a lack of scrutiny of state power," Wu Shiming said. "In the end, it’s the ordinary people who suffer."

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