Fluoride Action Network

Tumor outbreak reported in Dongming, pollution blamed

Source: The Global Times (People | June 29th, 2009
Location: China

Tens of thousands of residents in Dongming county, Shandong Province, allegedly suffer from thyroid tumors because of industrial pollution, a discovery that has resulted in Premier Wen Jiabao ordering an investigation into the claims.

Zhang Lixiang, administrative supervisor of the Shandong health department, told the Global Times yesterday that officials with the provincial departments of environmental protection and health are investigating the alleged connection between water pollution and thyroid diseases in Dongming.

“We will soon release the result of our investigation,” Zhang said, refusing to give further details.

According to an online post, which has appeared on both the Baidu and Tianya Web portals, the number of people diagnosed with thyroid tumors has soared since four Cyclohexanone chemical plants opened in Dongming in 2003. A local doctor in charge of checkups for retired cadres revealed that more than 60 percent of the people he has examined have thyroid tumors, the post says.

The post claims that there may be 50,000 to 60,000 sufferers in the urban areas of Dongming, adding that before the chemical plants had opened, the county “did not have a single thyroid tumor case.”

Preliminary results show that eight out of 10,000 people in three towns of Dongming county suffer from thyroid-related diseases, far below the 14.39 percent diagnosed after checkups at hospitals, Shandong TV reporter Li Jian told China National Radio yesterday.

The local government dismissed the tumor reports as rumors Tuesday.

A local resident in Dongming, surnamed Yuan, told the Global Times yesterday by phone that chemical enterprises have raised public concerns, but Yuan added that media reports have exaggerated the issue by saying more than half of the citizens have developed thyroid diseases.

A report issued Tuesday by the Heze Environment Inspection Center indicates that water in Dongming contains more fluoride because of the area’s geological conditions. The center carried out tests this month on waste drainage at local chemical plants and found that all met provincial standards.

However, villagers in Mujuzhuang, Dongming county, claim that the nearby enterprise is guilty of polluting groundwater and air.

Villagers say the smell of irritant gas is in the air, reported a People’s Daily correspondent in Shandong who asked yesterday to remain anonymous.

About 1,000 residents of Dongming have signed a petition calling on the government to investigate the chemical enterprises, according to a Thursday report by Beijing News.

“Some of the petitioners said the local government has warned them not to talk to media,” the correspondent said.

According to a report yesterday by the Southern Metropolis Daily, the petition was started by a few retired teachers. The deputy county mayor of Dongming talked to them three times to no avail. The local petitioners don’t believe the statistics of the local environment watchdog because, they said, the authorities are on the side of the chemical plants.

Yu Guoming, deputy dean of the School of Journalism and Communication at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times that the official feedback to the public opinion “is not at all timely, allowing negative reports to grow and losing the best opportunities to guide public opinion.”

“The feedback is general and does not address specific public concerns,” Yu said.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, however, noted that Dongming residents effectively used petitions and an online campaign to publicize the local pollution-related mass health problem, drawing attention from high-ranking officials and triggering an investigation.