Grades are the least of worries for a Chinese school that discovered its students have contracted various illnesses including cancer after building its campus on the site of an old chemical plant.
The secondary school, located in Jiangsu province, relocated last fall to a former toxic chemical plant that was home to three chemical factories that produced pesticides.
According to a CCTV report, nearly 500 students at Changzhou Foreign Language School were diagnosed with serious diseases that include bronchitis, dermatitis, lymphoma and leukemia. Of the 2,451 students who are enrolled at the school, only 641 underwent medical examinations so the number of ill students may be higher.
A 2012 report discovered an extremely high amount of toxic substances present in the area before the school campus was built. Dangerous levels of chlorobenzene, a colorless, flammable liquid known to cause neurotoxicity and muscle spasms in humans, were present at the time of investigation. Chlorobenzene levels exceeded the permitted amount by 78,899 times in the soil and 94,799 in the local groundwater.
Even more alarming, the CCTV investigation learned that the construction of the school had began seven months prior to the safety assessment of the land. Former employees revealed that they had allowed untreated wastewater to enter local streams and buried toxic chemicals under the dirt.
Students began to show signs of illness not long after attending the school and administrators announced in January that the semester will end early so that tests can be conducted.
The local Ministry of Environmental Protection admitted to finding toxic substances present in nearby soil, but local officials responded by having the toxic soil buried. Additional tests were carried out in February that showed everything to be normal.
However, parents weren’t convinced and pressed for answers. Results from CCTV showed the presence of toxic pollutants, with some linked to those discharged from nearby chemical factories. Pan Xiaochuan, a public health professor at Peking University, told CCTV:
“There are absolutely carcinogens found in the tests… Long exposure to these pollutants will lead to leukemia and other tumors. The high morbidity at the school in such a short time must be linked to the pollutants.”
Parents are furious at local officials’ failure to investigate the area before building the school on the site last September. Changzhou Foreign Language School, now referred to as the “contaminated school,” is a well-regarded school where parents pay nearly $10,000 a year to have their children educated in hopes that they will study abroad after they graduate.
The parents of the school’s students have coalesced to protest against local government officials for their lack of oversight and poor enforcement of regulations.