BEIJING • The Chinese authorities have shut down nine factories and detained some executives after reports that toxic industrial waste was used for running tracks widely used at schools, official media have reported.
Foul-smelling synthetic sports fields and athletics circuits, along with students falling sick from exposure to them, have regularly made headlines in China in recent years.
Parents of pupils at an elite elementary school in Beijing have been protesting, saying that their children suffered from nosebleeds and allergic reactions after using running tracks, the latest health scare in a country where safety standards are frequently compromised for profits.
Incidents in Beijing are seen as particularly unsettling as many Chinese believe regulations are more strictly enforced in the capital than elsewhere. Similar cases were also reported at schools in Jiangsu, Guangdong and other provinces, where children cough and suffered from nosebleeds and dizzy spells after using new running tracks.
State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) reported this week that dozens of companies in Cangzhou and Baoding in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, had been producing running track materials from recycled industrial waste, such as automobile tyres and electrical wires, which were believed to contain toxic chemical substances and heavy metals.
Incidents in Beijing are seen as particularly unsettling as many Chinese believe regulations are more strictly enforced in the capital than elsewhere.
The Cangzhou government set up an investigation team and the local authorities have shut down nine plants, sealing their machines, materials and semi-finished products and putting "related personnel" in custody, said hebnews.cn, the Hebei provincial government's news portal, yesterday.
China's Ministry of Education has pledged to remove substandard running tracks from schools. It has also ordered more stringent checks on newly built synthetic tracks. "The Education Ministry is taking the recent spate of 'poisoned track' cases on campuses in a number of locations very seriously," the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
It added it would raise oversight of officials and school personnel involved in the construction of school running tracks and sports stadiums. "People in positions of responsibility, whose negligence leads to sporting facilities falling below quality standards or even being 'toxic', will face resolute and serious punishment without mercy."
At least one affected school, the Beijing Number Two Experimental Primary School, has started to tear up its new running tracks.
Dozens of parents gathered to protest on Wednesday after commissioning a private survey, which found high levels of pollutants in the running track, a parent with the surnam Ge said.
School officials refused to meet them and about 50 took their protest to Beijing's main thoroughfare Changan Street, she said. "Parents are angry," she added.
In April, reports said almost 500 students fell sick after a top middle school in the eastern city of Changzhou relocated to a site close to decommissioned chemical factories.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS