(New Scientist) The Chinese government has acknowledged the existence of “cancer villages”: areas where rates of cancer are unusually high, probably because of industrial and agricultural contamination of drinking and irrigation water.

The reference to the cancer clusters was in China’s first ever five-year plan for environmental management of chemicals, released on 20 February. The Chinese media, translating parts of the report, said it links water pollution to “serious cases of health and social problems like the emergence of cancer villages in individual regions”.

The term has caught on over the past few years as the media in China and elsewhere reported on apparent cancer hotspots. It gained prominence in 2009 when a journalist plotted 40 of them on a Google Map. Some reports have suggested there might be more than 450 such clusters.

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