The AFP reports on the toxic and deadly legacy left by a factory that ceased operation in 2009 in Shuangqiao, a small village in Hunan province:
At least 26 villagers have died from cadmium poisoning and hundreds more fallen ill since 2009 near a disused factory in central China, local media said Wednesday, underscoring the country’s mounting pollution challenge.
Soil samples from Shuangqiao in Hunan province contained 300 times authorised cadmium levels and excess amounts were found in 500 of 3,000 villagers tested by health authorities, the China Youth Daily said.
It said 26 people had died as a result of cadmium exposure in the last four years, eight of them under 60 and 20 of them from cancer, while children in the village were born with deformities.
[…]It described the situation as “one of the country’s 10 biggest pollution incidents”.
Cadmium is highly toxic and exposure to the metal “is known to cause cancer”, according to the US Department of Labor. [Source]
The Chinese government recently completed a nationwide soil survey that began in 2007, though the results have been classified as a state secret (prompting citizens to do their own soil mapping, as Quartz pointed out last month). While the villagers of Shuangqiao suffered directly from remnants of the factory’s runoff, Quartz notes that the nation as a whole has to deal with fallout from heavy metal-tainted soil:
Soil pollution comes primarily from industrial factories and from fertilizers and pesticides related to farming. The health of villagers of Shuangqiao might suffer most acutely, but soil contamination in China’s major agricultural areas—provinces like Hunan and Guangdong—affects the entire country, adding poisons to the food supply on a massive scale. That became apparent in the recent discovery that 44% of rice samples in Guangzhou contained poisonous levels of cadmium.
[…]The government has paid little attention to preventing this. For instance, of the sites of the 142 factories relocated from Beijing between 2001 and 2005, only eight had been decontaminated, said Caijing. And news about contaminated land plots are usually “strictly blocked.” That may be because cleaning up sites of buried or permeated industrial and agricultural waste can be hard—especially now that prime real estate in major cities sits on plots that have never been assessed for pollution levels, let alone decontaminated. [Source]