Farmer Exposes Industrial Pollution Link to High Leukemia Rate

By Li Jianjun, Radio Free Asia
October 19, 2007 12:00 am Last Updated: October 19, 2007 12:00 am

A villager in Shaodong County in Hunan Province suspected that his relative's death from leukemia was related to water contaminated with radioactive substances. He spent two years visiting more than 100 villages along the river valley and discovered over 20 people suffering from leukemia. He suspected the source of the cancers was the waste discharge from a nearby lead and zinc refining plant and a uranium mine. Although his investigation caught the central government's attention, he realized that the bureaucrats and internal government officials cover for one another, which meant that there would not be any remedial actions or accountability determined.

Daquan Village resident Luo Dehua's first grandson, Luo Yushi, died from acute lymphocytic leukemia two years ago. Luo Dehua later found a four-year old report from the China Institute of Atomic Energy on the Internet showing that the water in Steamy River passing through Daquan Village contained hexavalent chromium, manganese, zinc and other heavy metals. The levels of these heavy metals exceeded the national safety standards. The radiation content in the water was also far higher than the national standard allows. The report indicated that if a human body is exposed to long-term or excessive radiation, the probability of developing leukemia is greatly increased. Therefore, he suspected that the heavy metals and radionuclides in the Steamy River, coming from the nearby refineries, were causing health problems in his area. He decided he would investigate his assumption.

Luo Dehua is over 50. Although he is just an ordinary farmer who has neither academic nor technical training, he noticed that all of the leukemia patients in one hospital were living in Steamy River Basin. He suspected that the water from the Steamy River was related to the prevalence of leukemia in this area.

Based on his findings, he suspected that many of the people from Steamy River Basin suffering from leukemia came into contact with untreated waste water that was released from a local lead and zinc plant and a uranium ore refinery. Over the past two years, Luo Dehua has filed complaints with the local governments at all levels. In addition, he has filed lawsuits with the courts. In July, he finally caught the attention of the central-level media and the Hong Kong China News Agency. The China News Agency sent a reporter to interview him, and published the article in “Chinese News Weekly” last month. Many media outside of China have also quoted from the article.

At the end of July, the State Administration of Environmental Protection Reconsideration Center accepted Luo's complaints and some officials met with him in Daquan Village in August. However, he has not received any clear answers to his questions. Luo pointed out that he has already given up hope of completing his investigation, due in large part to the corruption that has led to central government officials and local government agents covering up for one another. As a result, the fundamental problems cannot be resolved. He also felt disappointed in the State Administration of the Environmental Protection Agency. He said: “I have not continued my investigation because of the way the officials are acting. They have always been defensive in this matter.”

Shaodong County People's Court in Steamy River Basin has repeatedly refused to accept his lawsuit. Our reporter made several attempts to talk to Shaodong County People's Court. However, they refused to respond to Radio Free Asia's questions.

Liu Feiyue, a human rights activist who assists farmers, pointed out during an RFA interview that many farmers would file lawsuits against the factories discharging untreated and toxic waste into the water system. But because the Chinese Judiciary Branch is not independent, the courts could not handle the cases appropriately. Local authorities often issue internal documents to prevent courts from accepting such cases. As for group actions, local authorities would face oppressive attitudes from the central authorities. Many farmers seeking help would not have the appropriate resources made available to them. Liu said that local authorities generally issue documents that prohibit the court system from accepting such litigation. Even if the courts accept such cases, they refrain from assigning blame or issuing fines, etc. Liu expressed that he has too often seen this kind of situation. Unfortunately, the government only wants to suppress investigations or remedial actions when dealing with class action suits.

In recent years, in order to develop the economy, many town and county governments have not handled environmental issues properly, including the approval of high-pollution industries operating in rural areas. Since many factories do not treat the exhaust gases and waste water they produce during production, many local residents end up with serious health problems and have to live with environmental damage.