'Toxic school site making kids ill'

Two screen grabs taken off Sunday's CCTV broadcast show skin abnormalities and marks on affected students of Changzhou Foreign Languages School. It was reported that soil and groundwater in the area were found to contain toxic compounds and heavy met
Two screen grabs taken off Sunday's CCTV broadcast show skin abnormalities and marks on affected students of Changzhou Foreign Languages School. It was reported that soil and groundwater in the area were found to contain toxic compounds and heavy metals, with the level of one carcinogen almost 100,000 times the safety limit.PHOTO: WEIBO OF CCTV NEWS
Two screen grabs taken off Sunday's CCTV broadcast show skin abnormalities and marks on affected students of Changzhou Foreign Languages School. It was reported that soil and groundwater in the area were found to contain toxic compounds and heavy met
Two screen grabs taken off Sunday's CCTV broadcast show skin abnormalities and marks on affected students of Changzhou Foreign Languages School. It was reported that soil and groundwater in the area were found to contain toxic compounds and heavy metals, with the level of one carcinogen almost 100,000 times the safety limit.PHOTO: WEIBO OF CCTV NEWS

Nearly 500 students of school near former chemical plants have health woes: Report

SHANGHAI • The Chinese authorities have launched an investigation into a report that hundreds of children attending a school built near a former industrial site developed health problems, including cancer.

The municipal government of Changzhou, about 100km northwest of Shanghai, said that since December, students and faculty at the Changzhou Foreign Languages School had been complaining about an "unusual smell" emitting from three former chemical plants nearby, Xinhua news agency said.

But a report by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) late on Sunday suggested that the problems were much more serious, and the case has sparked an uproar in China. It has also raised questions why a school was allowed to be built on the contaminated site.

Of 641 students from the school who underwent health checks recently, 493 were found to have conditions ranging from chronic coughs, headaches and blood abnormalities to lymphoma and leukaemia, CCTV reported.

Soil and groundwater in the area were found to contain toxic compounds and heavy metals, with the level of one carcinogen almost 100,000 times the safety limit, according to the CCTV report.

The broadcaster said one of the three factories used to discharge sewage into a dried-up canal 100m from the school site. The factories have been relocated.

The CCTV investigation found that the construction of the 310 million yuan (S$65 million) school started seven months before an environmental impact assessment of the site was completed, reported South China Morning Post.

The assessment concluded it was safe to build the school, but suggested the groundwater should not be used as "soil and groundwater in the area have been polluted".

Surveys commissioned by concerned parents of students found that the water, soil and air at the school campus were also contaminated, CCTV reported.

Photographs posted on Weibo show what appear to be dozens of people staging protests with banners calling for the school to be relocated, reported Reuters. It is unclear when the pictures were taken.

In a comment online, one person said: "In China, only the lives of people with power and money have any value!! The lives of common people are buy-one-get-10-free!! Right?!! Rubbish government officials!!"

Another added: "Emigrate, quickly. That is no place to hang around."

Widespread environmental pollution is a dark legacy of the growth-at-all-costs development path that China took since the 1970s, and it is increasingly a source of social unrest.

The ruling Communist Party in recent years has dedicated more resources and attention to cleaning the country's polluted air, water and soil, but the severity of the problem will be felt for decades to come.

Parents of the students in Changzhou had suspected for months their children's ailments were linked to the school, which opened on the new site in September, and called for it to be moved elsewhere, CCTV said in a report online.

When the new school term started in late February, some parents decided to keep their children at home, while others tried to transfer them to different schools, reported Caixin news magazine.

A parent told Caixin the decision was difficult. "We know the land is toxic, but what can we do? The children have to attend school."

Of 641 students from the school who underwent health checks recently, 493 were found to have conditions ranging from chronic coughs, headaches and blood abnormalities to lymphoma and leukaemia, CCTV reported.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2016, with the headline ''Toxic school site making kids ill''. Print Edition | Subscribe