Chinese environmental officials are now raising the same concern that has worried environmental activists for years: that severe pollution has led to a rise of so-called "cancer villages."
Activists and some journalists have been using the term "cancer villages" for several years to describe villages located close to waterways or industrial parks where cancer rates are very high.
A report issued this week by China's Environment Ministry, specifically mentions "cancer villages," blaming the problem on severe water and air pollution. It is thought to be one of the first times the term has been used by government officials. Official statistics indicate China has about 1,700 water pollution accidents each year and that up to 40 percent of the country’s rivers are seriously polluted.
Water researcher Zhao Feihong at the Beijing Healthcare Association said last month that of the more than 100 rivers in Beijing only two or three can be used for tap water.
"The rest of the rivers if they have not dried up, then they are polluted by discharge,” she said.
During the last week of January, smog hung over cities and towns from Liaoning in the north to as far south as Guangdong and air pollution reached unhealthy levels for long periods of time.
Chinese officials blamed industrial activity, construction and the widespread use of coal for heat.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP.