About 500 students at a school in the eastern province of Jiangsu have reportedly been affected since late 2015 by ailments including nosebleeds, headaches, coughs, rashes and, in the worst instances, lymphoma and leukaemia.
According to reports in the Chinese media, tests on the soil and air around the Changzhou Foreign Languages School have detected hazardous levels of toxins, including chlorobenzene, a highly toxic solvent that causes damage to the liver, kidney and nervous system.
In the reports, the Changzhou Foreign Languages School opened a new campus in 2015 near the former premises of three chemical factories: Changyu, Huada and Changlong. Classes reportedly began before the completion of an environmental impact report, warning that the area’s groundwater and soil had been contaminated.
Although the Chinese government announced an emergency inspection of the school in the heat of the moment, authorities in Changzhou sought to play down the scandal as reports state that city authorities claimed that only four of the school’s 2,451 students had asked for sick leave and officials denied any students had been diagnosed with leukaemia.
Environmental activists in China are calling for new laws and an independent investigation into how hundreds of Chinese students fell ill – in some cases severely – after attending a school built on a toxic waste dump.