Children attending the Changzhou Foreign Languages School in China, have been exposed to chemicals such as chloroform and benzene. Over 600 students from the school received health examinations and nearly 500 of those students were diagnosed with conditions such as bronchitis, dermatitis, lymphoma and leukemia. The number of students with each of these reported illnesses is unknown.
Chemical and pesticide manufacturers once operated across the street from where the school was built. The school is a brand new facility and opened last fall.
According to the Los Angeles Times, parents and students first noticed signs of illness in September. After children started falling ill with stomach cramps and headaches, parents began to suspect that their children were exposed to chemical contamination.
Due to parental concerns, officials closed the school to test for the presence of toxic chemicals. Authorities did not believe that the students were in danger, even though the tests revealed higher than normal levels of contaminants.
In a press release, Greenpeace East Asia wrote that environmental assessments of the area, prior to the construction of the school, found that the area was unfit for public use. The tests only included sampling for normal pollutants and not those associated with chemical manufacturing in the area.
Officials, according to Greenpeace East Asia, were advised not to build schools, housing or other public facilities in the vicinity. Greenpeace East Asia also reported that the school was using groundwater which had been deemed unhealthy for humans.
Jiangsu officials have announced that they will re-investigate.
The Washington Post reported that China’s central government announced it will investigate the contamination. In an interview with CCTV, officials in Jiangsu, where the school is located, denied the presence of contaminants in the soil. Now, the Jiangsu officials have announced that they will re-investigate.
Ahead of the CCTV report, a statement was posted to the Changzhou city website indicating that indoor air quality, soil and groundwater were safe. CCTV, according to The Washington Post, also interviewed a whistleblower who claimed chlorobenzene levels were close to 95,000 times higher than China’s national limit during the construction of the school.
Chlorobenzene is chemical commonly used in the manufacturing of pesticides, herbicides and rubber. It is most known for its use in the production of the pesticide DDT. Pesticides, and the chemicals used to produce them, persist in the environment long after production.
Water pollution is not a new problem in China and according to The New York Times, 80 percent of China’s groundwater is unsafe. A report by China’s Water Resources Ministry said that 32.9 percent of groundwater sampled in January was only safe for industrial and agricultural uses – 47.3 percent was unsafe for any human use.