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China’s Children Still Face Toxic Exposure: School Running Tracks Linked to Negative Health Outcomes

  •   27 Sep 2018
  •    lynn liang
  •    1093
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    GB36246-2018 has been developed to regulate the quality and safety of running tracks in China after a recent spate of high profile stories continues to garner nationwide attention and seem to point to an association between the use of toxic running tracks and negative health outcomes in children. The new standard will be implemented in November.

    Epistaxis (nosebleeds) in children attending kindergarten and primary school is a regular occurrence and in and of itself is not cause for any undue alarm. However when reports point to an alarming correlation between an increased incidence of these cases and close proximity to schools, playgrounds and other public amenities which contain plastic running tracks manufactured under questionable conditions and using equally questionable ingredients then there is certainly some cause for investigation.

    Although early anecdotal evidence pointed to a tenuous link between these cases and plastic running tracks, media attention gathered momentum over the last several years, reaching a zenith in 2016, prompting widespread private sector investigations and ultimately forcing the governments hand in the form of promulgation of a new compulsory national standard for production of plastic running tracks.

    In response to the media storm surrounding the case several of the implicated kindergarten schools also went as far as hiring 3rd party testing institutes to conclusively verify the compliance of their running tracks with reference to China’s current (soon to be replaced) national standard. In fact the reports did vindicate the kindergartens and clearly showed that the plastic tracks were manufactured in line with China’s national standards and did not contain chemicals beyond permitted ranges.

    The current legal foundation underpinning the standards for plastic running tracks in China is the national recommended regulation: GB/T14833-2011 Synthetic materials track surfaces.

    According to GB/T 14833-2011, 8 items are subject to specific limitations:  

    • Benzene (strong association with hematological malignancies in children)
    • Total amount of Methylbenzene and xylene
    • Free TDI (Toluene diisocyanate (TDI)
    • Soluble heavy metals: Lead (Pb), Chromium (Cr), Cadmium (Cd) and Mercury (Hg)

    According to Mr. Jim Wei, a former government official, founder of DADDYLAB (private sector watchdog conducting testing and toxicological assessment on common consumer products, potentially toxic public amenities etc.) and CEO of REACH24H.

    “The manufacturers know the regulation quite well and although test reports tend to exculpate the implicated kindergartens there is plenty of room to manipulate how tests were conducted, what samples were taken, the number of samples etc. In addition China’s current national standard is outdated and has failed to keep pace with breakthroughs in the field of oncology and failed to factor in the findings from recent scientific studies which tend to show no safe exposure levels for any of the toxic chemicals involved”.

    The pending implementation of the new national mandatory regulation GB 36246-2018 [Sports areas with synthetic surfaces for primary and middle schools](中小学合成材料面层运动场地) published on May 14, 2018 (set from implementation on November 1st, 2018 ) will finally offer up a uniform criteria for manufacturing of sports facilities including running tracks. The regulation sets more stringent rules on limitations for 18 items, including over 40 potentially hazardous substances and although not perfect is still a step in the right direction.  

    Mr. Wei went on to state “There are some eco-friendly materials available in the market with relatively higher prices compared to mass produced but ultimately dangerous products. However pricing pressures primarily caused by educational budget constraints often mean that schools will opt for cheaper options. Ideally the government should publish a positive list instead of a negative list which clearly delineates the ingredients with a proven history of safe use and bans ingredients with any association with negative health outcomes. I submitted the suggestion but it hasn’t been adopted by the government.

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