Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cancer villages

Excerpts from USA Today:
To fight the cancer stalking their village, some late-stage patients in Xinglong, southwest China, eat bugs every day, in hope of a folk cure. Farmer Cui Xiaoliang hopes for another, more substantial remedy.

"I wish all the polluting factories would move away, but I worry, even if they move, it will be impossible to clean up all their waste in a short time," says Cui, 40, who blames nearby chemical firms for the deaths by cancer of his father and an aunt. ...

Some estimates suggest China has more than 400 "cancer villages," rural clusters of the disease close to polluting factories. Locals in one village in Tongzhou, the easternmost district of China's capital, grimly call their main street "Cancer Road."

Fear of reprisals from authorities, who are re-modeling Tongzhou into "the Manhattan of Beijing," stops villagers from going on the record. Police forced a USA TODAY reporter to leave the village. ...

More than half of China's cities are affected by acid rain, and one-sixth of its river water is too polluted even for irrigation, said the ministry's annual state of the environment report published in June.

Last week the ministry pledged to crack down on hazardous waste. But environmental activists caution that Beijing has failed to keep earlier promises, including a 2010 deadline, now extended to the end of 2012, for clearing all chromium waste, a major heavy metal pollutant.

China still has more than 1 million tons of untreated chromium residues, environmental group Greenpeace says. The illegal dumping of 5,000 tons of this highly toxic waste outside Qujing city, Yunnan, revealed last month, "is just the tip of the iceberg," Ma [Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a Beijing-based non-profit] says.

"Through this massive industrialization we have discharged so many heavy metals that will affect this generation and generations to come," he says.

For both Chinese and foreign firms, "the cost of violation is lower than the cost of compliance, so many companies choose to pay fines year after year," rather than clean up their operations, he says.

So why aren't we seeing this in America? One reason: environmental regulations. Republicans clamor for deregulation, even for the complete elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency. They claim that regulations are job killers, and that corporations will just naturally do what's right, anyway.

Note that they continue to claim that even after their deregulation of the banking industry led directly to our current economic collapse. Bankers didn't just naturally do what was right. They just did what increased their own short-term profits.

Industrialists in America are no more likely than those in China to spend money they don't have to spend, just to keep our environment safe. Even if some would, their competitors wouldn't. Where there are no government regulations, the least responsible corporations become the most profitable.

We can learn a lot from the experiences of other nations. Sometimes, as with Finland's schools, we can learn ideas that might work well here. In other cases, as with China's cancer villages, we can see what not to do. But are we smart enough to learn these lessons?

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