A growing number of cancer cases allegedly connected with foul landfills have been detected in villages of Dongguan City of Guangdong Province.
In Yuanfeng village, located in the Humen town famous for garment manufacturing, 11 of the 400 residents have been diagnosed with cancer over the past six years, nine of whom have died.
The incidence of the disease is about three times that of the national average.
On average, 2 million people, or 0.15 percent of the country's population, are diagnosed with cancer each year, according to the Ministry of Health.
In another two villages of Niushan community, six of seven cancer patients have died over the past three years.
The villagers were exposed to mountains of trash in the landfills, which reached capacity a couple of years ago but still accept tons of waste produced by the expanding urban population.
According to a report by Guangzhou Daily, the government outsourced the landfills in Niushan to private operators three years ago, but did not manage them well.
The profit-driven operators accept waste from other towns, charging 150 to 200 yuan (US$22 to US$29) for every truckload of trash. They also collect fees from garbage collectors, said villagers.
Without proper treatment, the trash in the landfills, amounting to 4 million tons in Yuanfeng, was completely exposed to the air, giving off horrible smells and forcing the villagers to close their windows year round.
Villagers' appeals to close the landfills finally got a response from the local government recently when Mayor Li Yuquan gave instructions to "take care of the issue seriously".
When it closes the landfill in Niushan, the government plans to take back the operation rights, said Liu Guangxiang, director of the public service center of Dongcheng district.
In Yuanfeng, the town government will invest 40 million to revamp the landfill into a methane power plant in two years.
However, experts said the damaged environment could not be fully recovered, and it would continue to affect the lives of the villagers for generations.
"Once people become aware of environmental pollution, it has already developed to a very serious level. Residents in Yuanfeng have paid a bitter price for pollution," said Shi Hanping, a professor with the First Hospital Affiliated to Sun Yat-sen University, who showed great concern over the abnormally high cancer rate.
He said it is impossible to remove the pollution completely because even the groundwater has been tainted.
Dongguan generates about 4.5 million tons of trash a year, but only 23 percent receives proper treatment. The rest is simply buried or just piled up in the open air.
(China Daily September 23, 2009)