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Cases of Citizens Defending Environmental Rights: "Cancer village" residents petition for clean water

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)

To help victims of pollution use the law to protect their legal environmental rights, and to give the wider public the basic legal knowledge to protect the environment and their environmental rights, the “People and the Environment” supplement of the Gansu Economic Daily closely planned and consulted with the Environment and Resources Law Research and Service Center at the China University of Political Science and Law before formally launching the “Citizens’ Environmental Rights Protection” column on May 9, 2007. Its goal is to advance and spread the implementation of environmental law in China.

This is a collection of cases that have already appeared in the “Citizens’ Environmental Rights Protection” column. Most are cases in which the Environmental Law Clinic and the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) at the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL) have provided legal assistance.

Previously available only in Chinese, Greenlaw will be translating and posting one column each week with additional legal commentary. These CLAPV columns are translated directly from their original versions and do not necessarily reflect the views of NRDC.

This week’s case centers on a village that suffered from heavy metal pollution in its water supply. Years of severe pollution drastically increased the cancer rate in the area and soon earned the Shangba village the nickname “cancer village.” While many options were available to the villagers, they chose to petition the local government for redress. After a long and arduous campaign, they eventually secured funds to build a reservoir that could supply them with clean drinking water.

View the full case and commentary after the break.

Click here to view previous cases.

Pollution Turns Shangba Village into a “Cancer Village”
Author: Liu Lei Source: Gansu Economic Daily
Translated by Owen Fletcher

Case Description:
Shangba Village in Wengyuan County, Guangdong Province, used to be known as a “village of fishing and rice paddies.” But now some form of cancer takes the lives of twenty to thirty of its residents each year. It has become renowned far and near as a “cancer village.” The cause of the diseases is severe heavy metal pollution in the village’s water.

The source of the pollution is wastewater created from ore washing and dumped upstream from the village in the Dabao mining area. The wastewater is dumped in the Hengshi River without any treatment and flows into Shangba’s crop fields and the village area. Pollution in the village’s water source has reduced crop yields at harvest and caused frequent disease outbreaks, interweaving poverty and illness. Most distressing is that cancer rates are now peaking in Shangba due to the long-term buildup of pollution. Scholars who researched agricultural product safety in Shangba found heavy metal concentrations in excess of standards in all products tested. Contaminated irrigation water harmed output in large areas of Shangba’s rice fields. Per mu yield fell to between 250 and 300 kg – and twice as much fertilizer as before was needed for this result. Shangba’s agricultural economy had descended into a fearsome vicious cycle. Its river water was poisoned and its well water unsafe. Just brushing one’s finger across the water in a barrel freshly filled from a well was enough to discover a layer of reddish-brown encrusting on its top.

The Shangba villagers began the long and arduous process of upholding their rights to protect their lives and property. They began by petitioning the provincial government and the municipal government above them. Their tireless effort finally drew attention from the media and the Guangdong provincial government. Every meeting of the Provincial People’s Congress since January 2003 has mentioned the pollution problem in Shangba. At the attention and urging of the congress, the relevant departments of the provincial and municipal governments reached a consensus with the mine after many negotiations. Funds to build a reservoir for Shangba were finally secured. Construction of the reservoir formally started in August 2005. The villagers at last could hope to drink clean water.

Expert Analysis:
The process of economic development has increased cases of water source pollution like that in Shangba. Instructing villagers how to take up the legal weapons in their hands and protect their environmental rights and interests is thus an urgent matter.

In the above case, the Shangba villagers had many effective options to protect their rights besides reporting the situation to the government and petitioning.

The villagers could have reported the problem and complained to the EPB at all levels in their area. They could then have requested the EPB to carry out its duties of environmental monitoring and supervision concerning the polluting company – conducting onsite investigation and environmental tests in the Dabao mining area. At that time, the EPB could legally order the polluting company to end its infringement, or dole out administrative punishment in a severe case.

What merits special attention is that the villagers could submit a written request for a response to the EPB if their oral complaints dragged on unanswered. Applicable regulations are in Article 9 of China’s Administrative Reconsideration Law and the first clause in Article 39 of the Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court on Several Problems in Implementing the Administrative Litigation Law. If the EPB does not carry out its duties of monitoring and supervision within 60 days of receiving a written request, these laws allow persons concerned to apply to the next-higher EPB for administrative reconsideration or file an environmental lawsuit for administrative nonfeasance with the local People’s Court. This would have allowed the villagers to expedite the EPB’s execution of its legal duties and achieve protection of their rights and interests.

Villagers can also draw society’s broad attention through media coverage and monitoring in the public eye. In the above case, media reports exposed the pollution issues in Shangba. This brought widespread attention. Under the pressure of public opinion, the local government and the mining company could only come up with a resolution for the problem as quickly as possible, guaranteeing the villagers’ right to drink clean water.

Original publication date: July 4, 2007
(This article was originally published in the Gansu Economic Daily. Many thanks to Professor Wang Canfa and Xu Kezhu of CLAPV for providing the materials.)

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Comments [add yours]

Maria says: — 2010/06/07 at 7:09 pm

These polutions will have major negative impact on China’s future budget in terms of Health Care.

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