Cancer haunts village in central Vietnam after claiming 40 lives

By Hoang Tao   April 27, 2017 | 07:00 am PT
Cancer haunts village in central Vietnam after claiming 40 lives
Nguyen Thi Tri, a local, is worried that using water from the well will affect her grandson's health. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao.
Polluted water is believed to be the reason behind the deadly disease.

The atmosphere in Van Hoa Village in the central province of Quang Tri these days is filled with sadness and anxiety. In just the last 10 years, 40 villagers have died from cancer, and the village's main water source is believed to be the culprit.

In her shoddy single-storey house, Nguyen Thi Tri, 65, said her only son had died from lung cancer 7 years ago at the age of 33. His wife left soon afterwards, leaving their 11-year-old son in his grandmother's care.

“He started feeling sick in October 2009 and couldn't stop coughing,” Tri recalled. “After the Lunar New Year, the pain became unbearable for him. We took him to hospital 3 or 4 times but the cancer was already in the final stages and they couldn’t help him,” she said.

She used to use water from the well for everyday living, but after her son and many other villagers died from cancer, she started buying bottled water for cooking and drinking instead.

Similarly, Tri's next door neighbor Truong Quoc Dung, 46, is also haunted by cancer. She hasn’t lost any of her family to the disease yet but believes it is only a matter of time.

Water from the well his family drilled 20 years ago has turned yellow and is no longer suitable for consumption. Dung had to build a tank to filter the water before his family could use it for cleaning and washing clothes. “My family has been drinking bottled water for the last 6-7 years, which costs almost VND300,000 ($13) a month,” he said.


The water source in Van Hoa is heavily contaminated with alum, and
leaves a white residue when it’s used for cooking. Photo by
VnExpress/Hoang Tao.

In the last 10 years, 40 people in the village have died from cancer, causing confusion and anxiety, said Luong Chi Hoa, head of Van Hoa. The whole village uses water from wells that are 15-20 meters (49-65 feet) deep.

“Every time we pump the water up, there is a very bad smell. If we pass it through the filter tank, it leaves a thick, black, tar-like substance,” Hoa said, adding that most of the cancer victims had lived along the Vinh Dinh River.

“Everyone is in a state of panic and depressed, so nobody feels like working,” Hoa said.

After running tests, the local health office said that 98 percent of households were using contaminated well water. The villagers' health in general is deteriorating, with an abnormally high cancer rate.

There were five new cases reported in the village in just the first quarter of 2017. While the cancer rate in Van Hoa Village is very high, no explanation has been given for the cause, according to Nguyen Thanh Vu, vice chairman of Trieu Phong District’s People's Committee.

“The district has asked Quang Tri Province to invest in clean water for the villagers and to collect water samples to determine the problem,” Vu said.

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