The residents of Shuangqiao village say that their homes are now nothing but places in which to wait for death.
In the paddy fields surrounding this small community in Hunan province, southern China, the rice is neglected and strewn with weeds. The vegetable plots stand empty, stripped of the green beans and cabbages that were grown as cash crops.
Underfoot, the earth has been poisoned to a depth of 8 inches. The water in the wells is undrinkable.
Tragedies like this — the legacy of China’s rush to get rich — are all too common. Yesterday more than 600 children in Shaanxi province were found to be suffering from lead poisoning caused by a nearby lead and zinc smelter.
The plight of Shuangqiao, however, where three people have died and 509 are sick from poisoning by the heavy metals cadmium and indium, produced by a nearby factory, has drawn widespread attention since residents took to the internet to air their grievances.
“We wouldn’t be here today if the Government had paid attention to us in 2006 when we first told them the factory in our village was spreading pollution,” said one villager, who gave his name only as Li, for fear of official retribution. “Now it’s the responsibility of the factory and the Government that ignored us to help us.”
The Xianghe Chemical factory now stands shuttered and closed. Angry villagers have scratched away its name at the gate and scrawled in white paint the words: “Give us back our green hills, our clean water, our fresh air. Give us justice. We want to live.”