China's government has ordered schools to replace outdoor running tracks supposedly made of toxic industrial waste. Many children have fallen ill, allegedly from breathing in pollutants coming from the sports facilities.
Kids from Beijing and numerous outlying provinces started suffering nosebleeds, respiratory issues, sore eyes, headaches, and more after the tracks were installed and used. According to an investigative report by the local state broadcaster CCTV, quoted by ABC News, the use of industrial waste containing noxious chemicals was a common practice in mainland China because of the lack of adequate government supervision and insufficient safety standards.
In an official statement, the Ministry of Education confirmed all institutions would stop building or planning new running tracks. Further to that, the ministry would facilitate nationwide tests along with the environmental protection agency and the quality inspection authority to check all synthetic rubber tracks across the country during the summer break:
"Anyone who has cut corners in the construction of school sports facilities, the ministry said, will be "severely punished.''
The inspectors will pay special attention to the newly-built sports facilities with a higher risk that allegedly poisonous fumes may be still leaking from them. However, the Ministry of Education admitted that even if a track fulfills all the quality requirements and passes the usability tests, it was not a guarantee of safety. The currently existing regulatory standards need to be improved, notes Stephen Chen of South China Morning Post. The ministry also promised to impose stricter oversight over the construction of new facilities.
Beijing No 2 Experimental School was among the first institutions involved in the scandal earlier this spring. After many kids fell ill and complained of dizziness, headaches, sore eyes, and skin allergies after using the playground, their parents commissioned air quality assessments.
The tests revealed that the surface contained toxic pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and short-chain chlorinated paraffin whose levels broke European safety standards. 260 parents signed a petition to have the dangerous tracks removed.
As Owen Guo of the New York Times noted, some tracks were made of recycled tires, cables, and wires. The primary school had to remove the entire playground. According to the Chinese Environmental Protection Bureau, the country has no standards for the running track industry, writes Sophie Williams of the Daily Mail.
For instance, a report by the local television channel CCTV, the running tracks at the Bird's Nest in Beijing, the stadium built for the 2008 Olympics, cost $150 per square meter. One of the elementary schools in town spent only $18 per square meter for tracks that are allegedly poisonous.
Cao Qingxin, a waste rubber professional working at the China Rubber Industry Association, admitted that many schools tend to subcontract the construction of running tracks to third parties. Usually, they choose the lowest bidder. According to Qingxin, 2 percent of scrap tires, or 100,000 tons per year, are recycled and used widely in the running track industry in China. He said many producers are cutting costs by using low-quality glues and other substandard materials.