Cancer Now #1 Cause of Death in China, Coal Largely to Blame

China is beginning to see the costs of its rapid march towards industrialization — the heavy industry, coal-fired power plants, and numerous factories have so saturated the air with pollution that cancer is officially now the number one cause of death. Nearly 25% of deaths in China are now attributed to cancer. The Earth Policy Institute gleaned as much from China’s own Ministry of Health — and tragically but unsurprisingly, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in China.

EPI reports:

As is common with many countries as they industrialize, the usual plagues of poverty — infectious diseases and high infant mortality — have given way to diseases more often associated with affluence, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. While this might be expected in China’s richer cities, where bicycles are fast being traded in for cars and meat consumption is climbing, it also holds true in rural areas. In fact, reports from the countryside reveal a dangerous epidemic of “cancer villages” linked to pollution from some of the very industries propelling China’s explosive economy. By pursuing economic growth above all else, China is sacrificing the health of its people, ultimately risking future prosperity.

Dirty air is associated with not only a number of cancers, but also heart disease, stroke, and respiratory disease, which together account for over 80 percent of deaths countrywide.

And the number one contributor to that deadly pollution? You get three guesses, and here’s a hint. It’s also the number one contributor to global climate change. Yep, it’s coal, which China burns at a pace that left even the US in the dust some time ago.

Again, EPI explains that “According to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the burning of coal is responsible for 70 percent of the emissions of soot that clouds out the sun in so much of China; 85 percent of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain and smog; and 67 percent of nitrogen oxide, a precursor to harmful ground level ozone. Coal burning is also a major emitter of carcinogens and mercury, a potent neurotoxin.”

In other words, coal is literally killing China. As has been noted thousands of times before, the greatest crisis China faces as it becomes an increasingly industrialized, consumption-oriented nation is that of its environment. Air quality is ghastly, lakes once full of fresh water have been turned toxic, and the population is suffering. That recent, massive investments in clean technology indicate China is maneuvering to clean up its act down the line is hardly a consolation — but at least there are signs that change is in motion.

This post was originally published by Treehugger.


Related Stories:

Chinese Watermelons Exploding From Too Much Growth Hormone

Conserving Nature to Protect our Health

China and the Environment


Photo from Haldini via flickr
Written by Brian Merchent, a Treehugger blogger


Duane B.
.4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

leanne mcivor
leanne Torio5 years ago

I am sorry but the only sympathy I have is for the animals that suffer the same pollution!

Jami Winn
Jami Winn6 years ago

that sounds disgusting

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

The Chinese government's philosophy is full speed ahead -- they don't really care how many people die as long as production keeps going. People are in billions and expendable.

Loesje vB
Loesje Najoan6 years ago

Powerfull & poor China.....

John S.
Past Member 6 years ago

Soon we will not only import all our goods from China, but their air as well.

Phyllis C.
Phyllis C.6 years ago

The Chinese make more ill designed, poorly made toxic crap than the world could ever need if they just realized buying quality pre-owned items are cheaper and last longer and are not butt ugly. I check the labels and will not support their filthy practices or lead paint on childrens toys. You get what you pay for people.

pam wilkerson
pam wilkerson6 years ago

Yes, It is sad. I hope China can wake up and see what's happening in this country. So sad!

Karen B.
Karen Bump6 years ago

I was pretty much scared the whole time I was in Mizoram, for several reasons...It was the first time I had ever been anywhere out of USA, Canada, & Mexico. However, there was something deeper in me in that moment, and though I said nothing else during the meeting that day, I held his gaze with no fear and strong resolution in my spirit.

Still, I sensed that his position, in his mind, was one of survival. Why should they listen to us when we have, what? 1/5th of the world's population and utilize 40% of the world's resources...I have seen the enemy and it is us. Hard to judge others from that view. The sad fact is, The Blue Planet, & all of life will die if we don't stop the insanity...All of us.

Karen B.
Karen Bump6 years ago

It is easy enough to say, "Don't do as we have done." But developing nations don't want to hear it. They think we are just trying to keep them down...

In 2000, I was fortunate enough to go with a group of doctoral students (I was one as well) on a trip to Mizoram, India. We went by invitation to facilitate an economic development project. I was on the Human Services Team and we went and met with several high govenment officials. The trip was during the time of slash and burn farming methods and one could hardly breath...smoke filled the air...along with dirty black smoke flowing from the army trucks filled with soldiers.

At the round-table of government officials, not one of this highly qualified group of so-called progressives brought up the environment, not even the Health Team. I could not hold my piece, yet tried to be diplomatic...I said, "In the United States we have learned some hard lessons and I just wondered if you are considering enviromental issues related to development? I think it is important to do so." The Mizoram State Economic Development did not speak to my question and I can't even remember what he said...what I remember is the look of hatred in his eyes when he looked at me.