Nearly 500 teenagers at a top secondary school in Jiangsu province have been diagnosed with strange and serious illnesses — including cancer — ever since their school relocated to its new campus, right next to the former site of three careless toxic chemical plants.
According to a CCTV report, out of a total of 2,451 students at the Changzhou Foreign Language School, 641 underwent medical examinations, with 493 being diagnosed with a myriad of illnesses that include bronchitis, dermatitis, and even lymphoma and leukemia.
Parents are incensed at incompetent local officials and the complete lack of oversight that allowed their children to enter such a toxic learning environment. The school was relocated last September after permission was given by local authorities. In fact, the CCTV investigation found that construction of the school began seven months before the safety assessment was completed. That assessment concluded that while the groundwater should not be used (a fact which wouldn’t make it much different from 80% of Chinese groundwater), it was safe to build a school there.
This was in contrast to a 2012 report that found extremely high amounts of toxic substances in the area around the proposed campus — including chlorobenzene levels that were 78,899 times permitted levels in soil and 94,799 times permitted levels in groundwater.
The area had once been home to three chemical factories that produced pesticides. “In order to save time and money,” former employees admitted to releasing untreated waste water into local streams and burying toxic chemicals beneath the dirt outside.
Despite the positive assessment, kids soon started getting sick. In January, school administrators decided to end the semester early and run some tests. An investigation performed by the local Ministry of Environmental Protection once again found that the soil nearby had toxic substances. In response, local officials directed that the toxic soil be buried. In February, they carried out more tests, which found that everything was normal.
However, parents looked at the strange rashes on their children’s skin and weren’t convinced. They urged the school to relocate again, with some asking for their kids to be simply transferred (far, far) away. Changzhou Foreign Language is actually one of the top secondary schools in Jiangsu. Parents pay around 60,000 yuan a year, in the hope that their children will be better prepared to study abroad upon graduation.
Responding to worries from parents, CCTV conducted another test in which environmental experts discovered alarming amounts of toxic substances in the soil and groundwater. Tests of nearby soil find chlorobenzene at 78,899 times permitted levels.
“There are absolutely carcinogens found in the tests… Long exposure to these pollutants will lead to leukemia and other tumors,” Pan Xiaochuan, a professor on public health at Peking University, told CCTV. “The high morbidity at the school in such a short time must be linked to the pollutants.”
The pollutants were also found to match those that had been discharged from the nearby chemical factories, one of which would release waste water into a dried-up canal that is only about 100 meters from the current school. Check it out (orange is the plants; green is the school):
Pictures have been released showing the red spotty skin of one student’s face and another student’s arm. Parents have begun protesting outside local government offices, holding up signs, asking for answers and punishment for negligent local officials.
The story has gone viral on Weibo. More than 35 million users have viewed the topic “Contaminated School,” and nearly 100,000 have left comments. Many netizens have voiced their frustration at a lack of regulations and oversight that has led to a recent series of health scares and scandals.
“First, you can’t let your kids drink the milk. Next, you can’t let them get their vaccinations. Now, you can’t even let them go to school,” commented one netizen.
[Images via CCTV / Sina / NetEase]