Water Pollution and Digestive Cancers in China

Avraham Ebenstein, Harvard University

Following China’s economic reforms of the late 1970s, rapid industrialization led to a deterioration of water quality in the country’s lakes and rivers. China’s cancer rate has also increased in recent years, and digestive cancers (e.g., stomach, liver) now account for 8.1% of fatalities (WHO 2001). This paper examines a potential causal link between surface water quality and digestive cancers by exploiting large regional variation in water quality, which is driven in part by plausibly exogenous variation in rainfall patterns. I also exploit variation driven by the presence of manufacturing in an upstream river basin, which increases water pollution downstream and is plausibly exogenous to the digestive cancer rate downstream. Using a sample of 145 mortality registration points in China, I find using OLS/2SLS that a deterioration of the water quality by a single grade is associated with a 14%- to 30% increase in the death rate due to digestive cancer.

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Presented in Session 34: Environment and Health