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China And USGS--Working Together On Environmental Issues

ighest rates of esophageal cancer in the world.

"Many studies have been carried out in Henan province over the past 40 years, but the causes of increased cancer rates there remain unclear," said Finkelman.

The USGS and the National Cancer Institute are working with Chinese officials in Henan province to determine if a relationship exists between the type of coal being used in homes here and the high rates of esophageal cancer. The USGS is analyzing samples of coal obtained from this high-risk region and comparing them to coal samples from the low-risk region of Geiju, China, to determine which characteristics of the coal, if any, are associated with increased esophageal cancer.

Arsenic poisoning in southwest China has been linked to the common practice in this humid area of drying crops, especially chili peppers, over unvented ovens burning high-arsenic coal found in the region. Fresh chili peppers contain less than one part per million (ppm) of arsenic; peppers dried over coal fires can contain more than 500 ppm arsenic.

Similarly, Chinese scientists have linked a high incidence (approximately 10 million cases) of fluorine poisoning in southwest China to corn dried over unvented ovens burning high-fluorine coal briquettes bound together by high-fluorine clay. There is also evidence of selenium poisoning caused by the use of coal combustion ash to fertilize crops. USGS scientists may also have discovered evidence of mercury poisoning caused by the domestic combustion of high-mercury coals in China.

Coal is also an important energy resource in the United States, where almost 60 percent of electricity produced is generated from coal combustion. In the U.S., coal is burned in large, sophisticated utility boilers using modern pollution control technology. In addition, most U.S. coals contain lower amounts of toxic elements than found in some of the coals being used in China."Although this means that environmental quality is easier to maintain in
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Contact: Diane Noserale
dnoseral@usgs.gov
703-648-4333
United States Geological Survey
23-Jun-1998


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