Chemical plants shut after kids suffer rashes

School near industrial park is the second in Jiangsu to be affected by severe pollution

BEIJING • The authorities in eastern Jiangsu province have shut down all chemical plants located near a primary school following reports of nosebleeds and skin rashes among many pupils.

At one of the classes at Chengnan Experimental Primary School, as many as half of the 50 pupils were affected.

"My child always told me his back was itchy after coming home," the mother of a Primary 2 pupil told news website ThePaper.cn.

She said she did not pay attention at first until she heard from other parents that their children had similar ailments.

Many parents reported an acrid smell in the air recently and told ThePaper.cn. they suspected it came from the nearby Hai An Industrial Park, home to 28 chemical plants.

Students and parents at Changzhou Foreign Languages School had been complaining for months that soil and groundwater pollution on campus and in the vicinity could be the cause of the ailments. But local officials dismissed their concerns.

The local county government issued a notice early yesterday, ordering all chemical plants to stop operations immediately.

The local environmental protection bureau said it has set up five monitoring stations to closely check air quality in the area, reported South China Morning Post yesterday.

The primary school is in the same province as another school which has gripped the nation's attention in recent weeks. More than 500 students at Changzhou Foreign Languages School had developed illnesses, a few as severe as leukaemia, possibly because of pollution on campus, reported state media.

The school was built next to a plot of land that was home to three chemical plants until they were shut down in 2011.

These plants allegedly dumped toxic waste at the site, contaminating the soil and groundwater. The scandal, said The New York Times, underscored the large gaps that exist in China's oversight of hazardous materials.

After decades of rapid industrialisation, China has yet to set standards to regulate rehabilitation of soil on former industrial land, reported the Post.

Students and parents at Changzhou Foreign Languages School had been complaining for months that soil and groundwater pollution on campus and in the vicinity could be the cause of the ailments. But local officials dismissed their concerns, saying that the air, soil and groundwater met national standards.

Mr Hua Fei, head of a local health authority's investigation team, said on Tuesday that checks on 597 people had found no cases of leukemia, reported Xinhua news agency. One case of lymphoma that was found occurred before the school moved to its new campus last September.

In a series of investigative reports published over the past few months, news magazine Caixin and ThePaper took aim at officials at the Changzhou Foreign Languages School, one of the most prestigious schools in the area, and the companies that appeared to have caused the pollution.

On social media and in coffee shops, the Chinese people expressed deep concern about the case. On Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, a page related to the case had drawn more than 30 million views by Monday evening.

Mr Ma Jun, an environmentalist, told The New York Times that the fierce public reaction was a sign of increasing awareness among the Chinese people about the hazards of environmental pollution, largely because of the growing popularity of social media. He said it would become increasingly difficult for polluters to escape scrutiny.

The central government in Beijing has promised an inquiry.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2016, with the headline 'Chemical plants shut after kids suffer rashes'. Print Edition | Subscribe