"All the fish died, even chickens and ducks that drank from the river died. If you put your leg in the water, you'll get rashes and a terrible itch," said He Shuncai, a 34-year-old rice farmer who has lived in Shangba all his life. "Last year alone, six people in our village died from cancer and they were in their 30s and 40s."
Tests published by a medical lab in July show that the lake and river contain excessive amounts of cadmium, a heavy metal that is a known carcinogen, as well as zinc, which in large quantities can damage the liver and lead to cancer.
The mine is run by the government-owned Guangdong Dabaoshan Mining Co. Ltd.
"It's because of Dabaoshan and the dirty water," said Yun. "The girls were always playing in the river, even our well water is contaminated."
Few families downstream from the Dabaoshan mine have been left untouched by cancer. The most common cancers are those of the stomach, liver, kidney and colon. Cancer incidence rates are not available, but rights groups say they are far higher than the national average.
Across China, hundreds of towns suffer similar consequences of the country's rapid economic expansion. Death rates from cancer rose 19 percent in cities and 23 percent in rural areas in 2006, compared to 2005, according to official Chinese media, although they did not give exact figures.
The health burden also has an economic price. The cost of cancer treatment has reached almost $14.6 billion a year, accounting for 20 percent of China's medical expenditure, according to Chinese media.
An estimated 460,000 people die prematurely in China each year due to exposure to air and water pollution, according to a 2007 World Bank study.
Besides mining for coal, China has a large mine industry around heavy metals used to make batteries, computer parts and other electronic devices.
The residents of what some are calling China's "cancer villages" struggle to pay for medical care, often going into debt to cover pharmaceutical and doctors' bills.
"An official did come to give me our compensation, 20 yuan ($3)," said Liang Xiti, whose husband died of stomach cancer at the age of 46. His medicines alone cost the family 800 yuan a month, she said.
"If you test this rice, it will be toxic but we eat it too, otherwise, we will starve," said He, the farmer, as he shoveled freshly milled rice into a sack. "Yes, we sell this rice too."
Zhang Jingjing, a lawyer who is helping local residents, said the mine has promised to distribute a few thousand yuan to all villagers every year. Even though the funds will barely cover medical expenses, Zhang says it is an encouraging first step. "This means the mine admits it is polluting the environment," he said. "If it did no wrong, it won't give out this money."