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China's Red Flag Canal, which carries water to from the Zhang River to the cities and fields of Linzhou district, was an amazing feat of engineering and human labour. But its nitrite-rich waters also triggered a cancer epidemic. Photo: Eregli Bob via Wiki
China's Red Flag Canal, which carries water to from the Zhang River to the cities and fields of Linzhou district, was an amazing feat of engineering and human labour. But its nitrite-rich waters also triggered a cancer epidemic. Photo: Eregli Bob via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).
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Pure water the key to China's victories in the war against cancer

Kenneth Hsu

30th March 2015

Chinese scientists have established beyond doubt that water polluted with nitrite is feeding the worldwide cancer epidemic. But while China is beating cancer by providing new sources of nitrite-free water, Western scientists, regulators and the editors of scientific journals are doing their best to suppress the truth.

Nitrite is as necessary for the growth of cancer, as air is necessary for the survivor of normal eukaryote cells - and the absence of nitrite in potable water would thus be fatal to cancer.

Shortly after the Cultural Revolution, villages at Linzhou in Henan Province were caught in a cancer epidemic. Within a few years, the cancer-mortality rate was doubled, when it became one of the highest in China.

'Cancer villages' are not uncommon in China, but the Linzhou villages have a special significance. The revolutionary spirit of the peasants there had received a special praise by Chairman Mao, when they carved a canal with their 'bare hands' (with the help of machineries, of course) in the rock cliffs of Linzhou Valley.

The Red Flag Canal brought water to Linzhou, but the completion of the Canal coincided with the beginning of a cancer epidemic. It was 1970, the time of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolutions, specialists were brought over from their retention centers, the May 7th Cadres Schools, to Linzhou.

Despite of their different training and background, they all said that nitrite in drinking water was the culprit. It was an empirical observation. They did not know why. They built a big hospital. The incidence rate during the epidemic exceeded the mortality-rate, and the hospital was always full.

The hopeless were sent home. Cancer is cancer, and nothing can be done after surgery, chemical and radiation therapies, and terminal patients, like their counterparts in the West, could only wait for the inevitable.

Drought as a 'divine intervention'

Things might have continued this way, except for a 'divine' intervention. There was a drought. The Canal did not have enough water for all of the 22 water districts of the County. In 17 of those, people had to go back to their old ways, drilling wells for water-supply.

Miraculously, the cancer epidemic died out, when the cancer mortality rate was reduced by half to what it was. Only in the five water-districts was the rate still high, because people had to drink the canal-water in the terrains underlain by granite where there is no groundwater.

The scientists renewed their suspicion that there is a link between cancer and nitrite in drinking water. The Anyang Centre of Disease Prevention and Cure conducted a study in 2001-03. The scientists found a direct correlation between cancer mortality rate and the nitrite concentration in drinking water. The serendipitous discovery was to save lives.

The Linzhou experience was not a unique experience, because the cancer mortality rate rose everywhere in China after the start of the Development and Reform in 1980. The Chinese Ministry of Health had been conducting a systematic study to evaluate the nationwide data.

The correlation between the cancer mortality rate and nitrite pollution was confirmed. The MoH recommended in 2003, therefore, a MPCL of 0.002 mg/l nitrite-N for 'purified clean water' (PCW) as source of potable water-supply. It was suggested that the nitrite-free PCW could prevent and/or cure cancer!

An old controversy is settled - but US-EPA didn't want to know

The question whether there was a link between cancer and nitrite had in fact been a scientific controversy since the 1960s. Experiments with nitrite in North America and in Europe have failed to induce gene mutations. Nitrite does not seem to be a tumor initiator.

However, experiments by Russian, Japanese, and Chinese scientists have found rapid proliferation of cancer cells in nitrite-fed solution. Cancer researchers in the West have maintained that random genetic mutations, not environmental pollutions, are the main cause of cancer.

The US Environment Protection Bureau has thus claimed that nitrite is not carcinogenic. Bureau of Standards in practically all countries of the World, including China, have followed the American lead, and the recommendation of the World Health Organization, in setting up a Global Standard MPCL of 1.000 mg/l nitrite-N, 500 time that of PCW. The Chinese scientists have, however, persuaded the MoH that nitrite is a tumor-promoter.

The PRC Government recognized the good work by the Chinese scientists and adopted a policy recommended by the MoH. Unfortunately, the sources of water supply have almost everywhere a MPCL for nitrite greater than that of the PCW, because the ubiquitous pollution by sewage treatment discharges in the urban and chemical fertilizers in the rural communities.

China's huge victory in the battle against cancer

The State Council decided to a special policy to fight the War against cancer. Billion of rmb are budgeted to be appropriated to communities for their special need to drill wells in order obtain nitrite-free water as the source of water-supply.

In regions of the cancer epidemics of Guangxi, Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangsu, Anhui, Henan, Hebei, Tianjin, and other provinces, the appropriations have been used to drill for deep groundwater as depth up to 300-500m.

The policy has been costly, but it has also been a success. As in Linzhou, cancer epidemics died out, when the cancer mortality rate everywhere was reduced to half or even less where the source of water supply was substituted.

Even more extraordinary is a claim by Dr. Chen Tongyou, Director of Chendu's TCM Cancer Hospital, where PCW is supplemented with additives of Chinese drugs, all but a few of the 20,000 terminal cancer patients had been cured during the last three decades.

It seems that millions of lives have been saved, and China could claim victories in the war against cancer! The victories came from more from a political decision, when there was no sufficient scientific evidence to link cancer to nitrite pollution.

Ten years ago, my chance encounter

I was an earth scientist, and I have been working in China since 1979, to serve the people of the land of my birth in the environment and energy sectors. I stumbled onto the cancer problem in 2005 by chance.

For several years, I was working with an innovative system-engineering which I call CUESWE. We have been able to invent a technology to construct engineering systems of Carbon-capture Utilization for Environment rehabilitation and Sustainable economic development through Water - and Energy - resource recycling.

The acronym CUESWE can be phonetized in Chinese as 'ke' (to overcome), 'sze' (four), 'we'i (threats), or a system engineering to overcome the 4 threats of climate change, environment devastation, water - & energy -shortages.

One component technology of the CUESWE System is the invention of integrated hydrologic circuit (IHC) to make polluted waters crystal-clear. I was told, however, that the water is not acceptable as sources of water supply or of groundwater recharge, because the dissolved nitrite content is much higher than the MPCL of 0.002 mg/l nitrite-N of the PCW.

Not convinced by statistics which seemed to make no sense, I started to looked into problem on the origin of cancer. Being a geochemist, I could appreciate a chemical characteristic of nitrite. Dissolved in water, it is an reductant in oxygenated environment, but an oxidant in aerobic environment.

Starting a literature survey, I was attracted to Warburg's hypothesis that cancer is caused by defects in oxidative phosphorilation. I was then fascinated by Kremer's 'polemics' against the oncogene hypothesis.

Learning that the interior of cancer cells is hypoxic, or even anaerobic, I could believe his postulate that cancer growth has its origin in a change of the oxidation-reduction potential of the cell interior.

The answers lie in nitrogen's chemistry

The final inspiration came from a visit to the Institute of Aquatic Science (EAWAG) at Dubendorf, Switzerland, where sewage-treatment engineers use the method of anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) to treat sewage muds. Nitrite as a reductant could combine with oxygen molecules render the cell interior hypoxic or anaerobic.

Nitrite can also be produced endogenously to render the micro-chemical environment anaerobic. Anammox as a metabolic mode of living organisms was first discovered in 1995 by Arnold Mulder, when he used anammox bacteria for sewage treatment. They belong to the group Planctomycetes which is identifiable by its S16r RNA gene.

The group is distinctive for its budding reproduction and cell organization. Being chemo-litho-autotrophic organisms, they gain their energy and biomass for cell growth from the conversion of the inorganic substrates ammonium and nitrite.

The ammonia in a sludge is at first converted to nitrate by the oxygen pumped into a bio-reactor before nitrate is further reduced by ammonium into nitrite (nitrification):

NH4+ + 2 O2 = 2H+ + NO3-+ H2O (1)

NH4+ + NO3- + O2 = 2H+ + 2NO2- + H2O (2)

The presence of ammonium has helped to ensure that the micro-chemical environment inside the membrane remains anaerobic. The anammox metabolism consists of the following two de-nitrification reactions:

Catabolic: NH4+ + NO2- = N2 + 2H2O (3)

Anabolic: CO2 + 2NO2- + H2O = CH2O (biomass) + 2NO3- (4)

The anaerobic Planctomycetes cells in a sewage sludge, bound by a bio-membrane, grow by anaerobic ammonium oxidation, and the increase of the biomass has a doubling time of about two weeks.

The nitrite produced by reactions (2) becomes an oxidant when it, like the exogenous nitrite in drinking water, reacts with the reductant ammonium for anammox (reaction 3). Cell carbon is derived from carbon dioxide (reaction 4).

Two billion-year old genetic pathways re-kindled?

At this point, I recalled the Margulis Theory of Symbiogenetic Evolution through Acquisition of Genomes. Could the cancer genome be inherited from anammox bacteria at the time of the genesis of the first eukaryote during the age Oxygen Revolution two billion years ago?

Could the genome remain mute in eukaryotes until the cell interior has been rendered anaerobic by nitrite, when tumors will grow?

Together with the staff at the Henan Centre of Health and Environmental Engineering, we carried out experiments feeding cancer cells with solutions enriched in nitrite, or in nitrite and ammonium.

We noted an increase growth rate in all experiments. Furthermore, we observed flame-like substance coming out of mitochondria organelles of cancer cell, when both nitrite and ammonium were enriched. We suspect the substance could be the metabolic product of anammox metabolism (reaction 3).

Linking the experiments to theories, we formulated the hypothesis Origin of Cancer Through Inheritance of Genome Acquired from Anammox Bacterium during Eukaryotic Evolution.

We postulate that the cancer stem cells in eukaryotes was inherited as a mute gene, which could find an expression encoding anammox reactions when the cell interior becomes anaerobic. We postulate that nitrite, exo- or endo-genous, is a reductant that could render the cell-interior anaerobic.

We postulate further that, in such a micro-chemical environment, nitrite would become an oxidant to serve as a substrate of anammox metabolism of cancer cells.

Nitrite, according our hypothesis, is thus as necessary for the growth of cancer, as air is necessary for the survivor of normal eukaryote cells - and the absence of nitrite in potable water would thus be fatal to cancer cells as the absence of air is to normal cells.

Now, to test our hypothesis

The Chinese experience that the use of PCW (reminder - purified clean water) could reduce the cancer mortality rate could thus find an explanation. We do not have enough scientific evidence to prove our hypothesis, but we do have a working hypothesis which can be verified or falsified.

We now we need clinical trials, and we are now discussing with the Government of the PRC to carry out a nationwide program to investigate the link between cancer and nitrite.

We shall ask volunteers so that cancer patients could be categorized by four groups. I have met four categories of cancer patients; they are:

  1. Cancer patients taking chemical or radiation therapy who do not consume PCW.
  2. Cancer patients taking chemical or radiation therapy who do consume PCW.
  3. Cancer patients taking neither chemical nor radiation therapy, but TCM herbs, and who do not consume PCW.
  4. Cancer terminal patients taking neither chemical nor radiation therapy, but TCM herbs, and who also consume PCW.

We know that practically all hospital patients of the West belong to the Group A, because the water supply is almost ubiquitously polluted by nitrite. Earlier detection has been emphasized, but terminal patients have little hope.

My grandmother, my mother, my step-mother, and three of my four sisters, my brother-in-law Edward, my best friend Jerry, and most terminal cancer patients belong to the Group A. They had surgeries and therapies, but they all died shortly after the metastasis.

There has been little progress in the practice of orthodox cancer-cures. I was three years old when my grandmother died of cancer at 80, and I was an old man when my sister died of cancer at 50.

Now for proper trials

I personally know of two persons belonging to the Group B. He was middle-aged and he had a liver cancer with a 6 cm. long tumor. The doctor told him that there was no hope. A friend of mine told him the 'Chinese cure.' The patient drank PCW and the tumor shrank in size to 1 cm. long. At that time, the doctor removed the remaining growth by surgery. The patient was cured, and is still living.

Another patient ED was a friend and she was in retirement when she was diagnosed to have cancer. She was not taking therapies when she was waiting to be admitted to a hospital. Learning of the 'Chinese cure' she consumed only PCW. She had a remission after 3 months.

However, she became one of the Group A, after she was admitted to the hospital for chemical therapy, where she had to drink what was available. The cancer returned with a vengeance, despite of chemical therapy, and she died in another 3 months.

I have no information about the Group C. There are patients of TCM doctors, and I do not know of their survival rate.

I know of one person of the Group D. He was born and raised in the rural area of Huangshan. He became a tea-merchant travelling to the cities, where he came down with cancer.

Not believing in the Western Medicine, he bought a book on herbs that are allegedly curing cancer, and he came back to Huangshan where the water is natural PCW. His cancer was cured. When I met him 10 or 15 years later, he was healthy and strong. He is now dead of cause unknown to me.

Most extraordinary is, of course, the claim of Dr. Chen Tonyou of Chengdu Military Cancer hospital where PCW: Supplemented by Chinese herbs, the hospital PCW treatment has rescued the lives of >90% of his Group C patients.

I have tried to visit him at Chengdu and to obtain his hospital records, but he was always too busy. Now we should carry out clinical trials to verify or falsify his claim.

But this matter is of 'no interest' to scientific journals

I conclude by emphasizing the Chinese victories in the War Against Cancer are a fact. Whatever the scientific explanation may turn out to be, the Chinese policy has saved millions of cancer patients during the last 3 decades where the source of water supply has been PCW!

It could be considered a criminal neglect when this practice is not even tried out in the West. It is manslaughter when scientific manuscripts on the Chinese achievements sent to renowned journals are rejected without being sent out for peer-reviewing.

Our manuscript submitted to PNAS was accepted, because one co-authorship was a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, where the manuscripts submitted by members cannot be rejected by without peer-reviewing. That manuscript did get a glorifying review, and was accepted for publication.

The Chief Editor was a molecular biologist. He did not disagree with the reviewer, but he literally stopped the press and took out the manuscript for rejection. He gave no other reason other than the paper was too technical, and that the subject matter was of little interest to the readers of the PNAS!

That was the free-speech democracy of the United States. The lack of freedom of speech on this issue in UK is even more amazing. The Cancer Act of 1939 forbids anyone to publicize or advertize any cancer cure other than the orthodox, unless he has notified persons such as a member of the Parliament, et al.

As late as 2013, persons have paid fines for the offence and the court cost in amounts up to £10,000. I have, therefore, notified the Rt. Hon. David Cameron before I finalized the schedule of my talk today.

I would like to emphasize that I am not offering any cancer cure. However, the hypothesis that cancer should be treated as an inherited disease, if verified, could be the most significant discovery in medical history since Pasteur told us that microorganisms are the cause of infectious diseases.

The PRC is an autocratic country where the policy of the State Council could be decided upon the advice of a few wise old men. The Western Democracies are too heavily committed to orthodox approach.

Fortunately we still have the freedom of press so that I could give the speech today without the fear of being prosecuted.



Kenneth Hsu is a geologist, paleoclimatologist, oceanographer, government advisor, author, inventor, winner of a Wollaston Medal, and author of numerous books including his well-known popular work 'The Great Dying'. Born in Nanjing, China, he now lives in England. For further information see his Wikipedia page.

This article is the text of a Lecture by Kenneth Hsu at Queen Mary's College, London, February 26, 2015. Further enquiries to

Also on The Ecologist: 'Cancer-supporting nitrites - an all-too-familiar story' by Oliver Tickell, 9th June, 2008.



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