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Chinese Government Officially Acknowledges "Cancer Villages"

Update Date: Feb 22, 2013 01:55 PM EST

In recent weeks, China has made international headlines with the smog hovering over Beijing, the country's capital city. Unfortunately, the smog problem may be just be tip of the iceberg. For the first time, a government report used the term "cancer village".

The term "cancer village" is not a new one. Advocates have been alleging for years that some towns close to factories and polluted waterways have been disproportionately at risk for the disease. However, today was the first day an official government report used the term. It marks the first public acknowledgment by the Chinese government that these villages - marked by higher than average rates of cancer - exist.

According to New Tang Dynasty Television, "cancer villages" are towns where pollution levels are causing cancer in its residents. By one estimate, there are about 400 of these villages.

Cancer has become a grave threat to China. In fact, cancer is the largest killer of Chinese citizens. Over the past 30 years, the number of cancer mortalities have increased by 80 percent. Indeed, liver cancer rates are double the rate of the world's average and stomach cancer rates are double that of the world average.

The epidemic is due to lax environmental regulations and a booming economy. Last year, government reports alleged that 40 percent of the country's rivers were severely polluted. The same report stated that 20 percent of the country's rivers were so dangerously polluted that they were toxic to the touch.

The BBC reports that, in 2007, one journalist visited the Shangba village in Southern China. A scientist at the time was studying the health effects of pollution in the town. The scientist believed that there was a direct link between the mining industry in the area and the high rate of cancer, finding high levels of poisonous heavy metals in the town's water supply.

According to the Australia Network News, the Environmental Ministry in China also acknowledged that many industries use materials that have been banned by other countries, because they are risky to human health and to the environment.

In fact, just this week, Counsel & Heal reported that a province needed to recall thousands of school uniforms because of the use of cancer-causing dyes.

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