Many exercise routines and fitness journals praise the benefits of running. Just about every weekend in countries like Brazil, the United States, and Spain there are more 5Ks and longer races than anyone could hope to complete in a lifetime. Whether you are a runner or know someone who is, you’re probably aware that runners like things to be in a certain order. That’s understandable when they’re getting ready to run a marathon, a race modeled on the story of a man who died after running 26.2 miles. It turns out, however, that running tracks in China can be even more dangerous than conveying messages for the Ancient Greeks.
A recent string of severe health problems among elementary school children prompted a government investigation in the Chinese capital. The Xicheng Education Commission learned that a synthetic racetrack at the Baiyunlu campus of Beijing No.2 Experimental School had poisonous materials oozing from the track surface. The chemicals causing the biggest problems were dangerous levels of formaldehyde and benzene-based products. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen and is toxic to all living organisms. The same is true for benzene, with the added risk of developing leukemia. In addition to these long-term impacts, more immediate responses to the chemicals include nose bleeds, blood clots, mouth sores, lung inflammation, dizziness, and coughing.
Over 60 children at the elementary school reported symptoms during the nine months since the track was installed. Two children died from complications associated with blood clots as a result
of exposure to the toxic surface. Parents and teachers who also spent time on the synthetic racetrack were hospitalized. In light of the school district’s investigation, the track has been
covered with a thick protective sheeting. Similar incidents have occurred at schools in Guangdong and Jiangsu provinces. An official for the Ministry of Education stressed that regulations do exist to protect children from exposure to toxic chemicals, but enforcement efforts need to be increased significantly.