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Locals say they endure river of sorrow

Locals say they endure river of sorrow The Qihe River is the sole source of drinking water for Dangjie village, in Linzhou, Henan province...

Locals say they endure river of sorrow

The Qihe River is the sole source of drinking water for Dangjie village, in Linzhou, Henan province. Villagers said the river has been polluted in recent years by businesses upstream. (XIANG MINGCHAO / CHINA DAILY)

Feng Cuiqin, 60, from Dangjie village in Linzhou, Henan province, attributes the death of her husband to pollution in the Qihe River. (XIANG MINGCHAO / CHINA DAILY)

Hou Zhangying, a 73-year-old woman in the village, has been diagnosed with tuberculosis. (XIANG MINGCHAO / CHINA DAILY)

For Feng Cuiqin and her neighbors, one of the most frightening things is drinking the water, which they fear causes cancer.
Feng, 60, from Dangjie village in Linzhou, a county-level city in Central China's Henan province, said that the Qihe River, which runs through the mountainous region, is the sole source of drinking water for the village of nearly 1,100 people.
"The river has been polluted in recent years by some villagers, who farm fish upstream," Feng said. "They dump chicken feces into the river as fish fodder, and that has brought lots of bacteria and viruses."
During a visit by China Daily in late April, Feng talked unhappily about the vegetable patch in front of her house, which is irrigated with river water.
"There is a fishy odor in the river water and (the vegetables) taste terrible when you cook a meal," Feng said.
Having suffered from hemiparalysis - paralysis of one side of the body - for years, Feng said that the water caused her to become weaker. Since her right arm and leg occasionally go numb, she's been virtually unable to work on the farmland.
She attributed the death of her husband to the "dirty water". Her husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January 2010 and died about 10 months later, aged 57.
Feng can't produce any scientific proof to support her view. But she said the river must play some role in the fact that cancer fatalities in her village are much higher than in neighboring villages that get their drinking water from deep wells.
Feng and other villagers claim that at least 41 villagers have died since 2009, and more than half of the deaths were caused by cancer.
In the past, usually about half a dozen people died each year of old age. The overall death rate has been rising in recent years, and more people are dying in their 20s or 30s, Feng said.
"Four people have died since the Spring Festival" - New Year's Day on the Chinese lunar calendar - which fell on Jan 23 this year, she said. "All of them died of cancer."
Cheng Songqin, a doctor in Dangjie, said the village's cancer rate was the highest among more than 40 villages in the local township. She has reported this phenomenon to the county government for several years but received no response.
The number of cancer patients in the village has increased at a pace of at least five to six annually since 2009, according to the China Economic Weekly, a magazine run by the People's Daily newspaper, which exposed the case on April 10.
Feng and other villagers visited by China Daily in late April confirmed the data in the magazine's report.
Statistics released during the 31st World Cancer Congress in August 2010 show that the average incidence of cancer in China is about 180 cases per 100,000 people. The rate in Dangjie in the past three years was nearly 100 times higher.
Unaffordable expenses
The death toll is not just a statistic for 44-year-old Hao Helian: it also represents unbearable pain. Her only child died last year of leukemia.
Hao's 20-year-old son was diagnosed with the disease in January 2011 and died after four months of treatment. He was the youngest person to die of the disease in the village in recent years.
The medical bills exceeded 300,000 yuan ($47,550), far more than a rural family can afford.
To pay back the money borrowed from relatives, Hao's husband worked at a construction site in the city during slow seasons on the farm, bringing in about 10,000 yuan annually.
Hao ran a grocery store in the village, which did not bring in much money.
"You might have noticed that the things in the store are very cheap," Hao said. "Sometimes I cannot even sell 10 yuan worth of goods in a whole day."
The family can only hope to repay the debts by "watching every penny, every day", Hao said.
She doesn't know if she'll be able to have another child and can't afford to go through medical checks with her husband.
Medical costs are an unaffordable burden for rural families with cancer patients, said Feng.
Her family spent nearly 100,000 yuan for her husband's treatment last year, most of it borrowed from relatives.
As for Feng, she must take five kinds of pills every day and receive injections twice a year. The total medical expenses are about 1,600 yuan per month.
Feng can't earn anything because of her illness, and all of her medical bills have been paid by her 34-year-old son, who works in the local police station for a monthly salary of less than 2,000 yuan. Feng's daughter-in-law is a teacher in the local primary school who earns about 1,000 yuan per month.
The young couple had to send their own daughter to live with the wife's mother, since most of the family's money was used to buy medicine for Feng.
Quality at issue
Although villagers point to the river as the cause of the cancer cases among them, the local government has insisted that the Qihe River isn't polluted.
Yang Jiandong, director of the monitoring station of the Linzhou environmental protection bureau, told China Daily that the bureau had thoroughly checked the water quality on April 10 immediately after the original news report was published.
"Sample tests showed the water quality in the river is better than Level 2, meaning that it's quite safe for drinking," Yang said.
The local government has been serious about protecting the river, and townships around the river are not allowed to develop heavy industry to avoid pollution, the official said.
The official explanation doesn't satisfy the villagers, though, many of whom believe the results of the sample tests were "concocted" by local government officials.
"If the river is not polluted, why do neighboring villages that get water from deep wells have lower rates of cancer?" asked Hou Zhangying, a 73-year-old woman in Dangjie, who has been diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Liang Dawei, an official of the Linzhou publicity department, said that cancer rates in the local villages have been above average since the 1950s.
To deal with the high cancer rate, the local government drilled many wells in the villages in the 1970s, which brought down the cancer rate from 180.89 cases per 100,000 people in 1970 to 82.8 cases in 2003, according to statistics from the Anyang disease prevention and control center.
The local government tried to drill two wells in Dangjie in 1987 and 1989, but hardly any water appeared, even at a depth of nearly 300 meters, according to a statement posted on the government's website on April 12.
The dry wells cost 128,400 yuan, exhausting the government's funds for this purpose and forcing a halt to the effort, said the statement.
Wang Baojiang, head of Dangjie village, told China Daily that the government planned to provide the village with 500,000 yuan to drill a new well, following the report in the China Economic Weekly.
"Geological conditions in the village are quite complex and it is difficult to find an accurate spot to drill well," said the village official. "The construction team has selected four candidate sites for the well."
Xiang Mingchao and Zhang Leilong contributed to this story.



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AboutMicro News: Locals say they endure river of sorrow
Locals say they endure river of sorrow
AboutMicro News
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