Chinese health and environment authorities are investigating whether chemical pollution has caused 1,300 farmers in the central Hubei Province to suffer skin rash.
Farmers in some areas of Jianli County in southern Hubei had developed red, itchy bumps or even festers on their skin while picking cotton in the field earlier this year.
An illegal factory operating in Jiangxintai Village, Jianli County, Hubei Province was closed by the authorities on October 14, 2008. Waste water from the factory had contaminated ground water in the area and blighted thousands of hectares of farmland. [Xinhua]
"My house has always been filled with unpleasant smells since the vanadium plants started operation nearby. I felt itchy in the face and coughed sometimes when I returned home from the field," said Zhu Yan, a woman in Jiangxintai Village.
"We dare not go to pick cotton now," said Xu Boping in Miaoling Village.
They believe nearby chemical plants smelting vanadium pentoxide are to blame. The most important use of this chemical compound is in the manufacture of sulfuric acid, an industrial chemical used to manufacture a variety of chemicals and materials, including fertilizer, paint, detergent and explosives.
"The health authorities are investigating the real cause of the skin rashes. We will ensure those patients can be treated timely," Lin Zhixiong, Jianli County deputy head, told Xinhua on Wednesday.
According to an investigation of local environment authorities in April 2006, there were six such chemical smelter plants operating, and all had been ordered to shut. In addition, three plants being built were told to cease construction.
Today, three plants continue to operate covertly and illegally.
"The three plants were found to have caused pollution to the air and river to different extents in the past few months. They discharged the wastewater and gas directly without any treatment," Lin said, citing the wastewater discharged by one of the plants near the Jiangxintai Village contained vanadium 209 times above the national standard.
To date, legal representatives of the three plants have been detained by police and their bank accounts frozen, Lin said.
"Local authorities will destroy all the smelters, and keep a strict control of the environment and drinking water quality," he pledged.