Pollution in the Huai River and the cancer village of Huangmengying in Henan, China

Correlation between heavily polluted water and higher incidences of cancer found in the Huai River watershed in eastern China


In 2013, researchers from China Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDCP) confirmed a correlation between heavily polluted water and higher incidences of cancer in the Huai River watershed in eastern China [1]. The Huai River is one of China’s major river systems with coverage of 274,700 square kilometres in Henan, Anhui and Jiangsu Provinces, watering much of China’s commercial grain crops (ibid). During the 1980s, polluting factories such as food processing factories, paper mills and tanneries were set up along the riverbank of both the Huai River and its tributaries, causing severe pollution to the nearby villages (ibid). Since 1990s, a large number of cancer villages have been found in the Huai River watershed, among which, the village of Huangengying is one of the first widely known cases (ibid).

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Basic Data
NamePollution in the Huai River and the cancer village of Huangmengying in Henan, China
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Manufacturing activities
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific CommoditiesIndustrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population2470 villagers in Huangmengying (105 deaths due to cancer) [2], 165 million residents in the Huai river watershed [3]
Start Date1994
Relevant government actorsHuangmengying Village officials, Shenqiu county officials, Zhoukou city officials, Beijing environmental authorities, the State Council
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersHuo Daishan, the founder of the environmental NGO, the Huai river Guardians (Huaihe Weishi), Yang Gonghuan, formerly deputy director of the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention [1]

The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationMedia based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsPotential: Deaths, Other Health impacts
OtherHigh incidence of cancer
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusUnknown
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Despite some improvement in the condition of the Huai river, the problems caused by the pollution are far from resolved. The Huai river watershed is still suffering pollution. Although researchers had confirmed the correlation, the causal link between specific diseases and corresponding pollutants could hardly be proved in the court [1]. As noted by Professor Yang, the impact of water pollution on health could be delayed, thus, high rates of cancer in the heavily polluted areas of the Huai river watershed can still be expected in the next ten years (ibid).
Sources and Materials

From the role of the Central Government to Grassroots NGOs: Responses to the Huai River Pollution in China, Written by Roberta Cucchiaro on June 25, 2011 at Peking University
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Yang, G., & Zhuang, D. (2014). Atlas of the Huai River Basin Water Environment: Digestive Cancer Mortality. Springer Science & Business Media.

(Available in Googlebooks)


[1] Study confirms cancer village fears in east China
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[2] 新闻调查:淮河最大支流河畔的癌症村
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[3] 淮河癌症
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[4] Riverside villages count cancer cases
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[5] Huo Daishan - Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation
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Other Documents

Industrial pollution, Huai River, Henan Province Source: Greepeace http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/multimedia/photos/toxics/huai-river/
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Meta Information
ContributorEJOLT team at School of Geography and China Centre, University of Oxford
Last update27/02/2018