Parents in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan protested on Friday outside a primary school over children's health problems linked to a toxic athletics track on the premises of newly built facilities
Scores of parents gathered with banners and placards outside the Chenghua Educational Science Institute elementary school in the provincial capital Chengdu in the early hours of the morning, facing off with police in anger over skin irritations and other symptoms suffered by their children.
Parents of some 400 of the school's 2,000 pupils have reported skin rashes and other reactions to chemicals used in the construction of new school facilities.
"The police came, and told the urban management officials to snatch away our banners, all of them," a protesting parent who gave only a nickname Jian Ge told RFA.
"They are afraid that this whole thing will escalate, because there are officials protecting each other here, if you know what I mean," he said.
Parents left soon after the banners were taken, and some may have been detained, he added.
According to Jian Ge, some 300 students are no longer attending class, kept out of school by worried parents.
"A lot of the kids have nosebleeds, or itchy swollen eyes, as well as rashes across their whole body," he said. "Some completely lack energy, and have very serious nosebleeds."
"Some have swellings, others blood clots. The symptoms vary."
'Dragging their feet'
The protest follows moves by parents to complain at Chengdu municipal government offices and at the district education bureau, where officials held talks with parents, but to no avail.
A fellow campaigner who gave only her surname Feng said the parents are calling on the government to reimburse their children's medical expenses, blaming toxic chemicals leaching from substandard materials in a new athletics track.
"The parents' demands are quite simple," Feng said. "They want us to relocate back to the old school buildings or to demolish this running track."
"The school insists that there's nothing wrong with the track, but there are still a lot of documents that they and the education bureau haven't let us see," she said.
"All the government departments are just dragging their feet."
An official who answered the phone at the Chenghua district education bureau declined to comment on the protest.
"I am not the press contact person, and we have to go along with official announcements," the official said. "You should follow our official social media accounts."
An official who answered the phone at the district government offices said enquiries should be directed to the education bureau.
Problems in other schools
The Chengdu protest isn't the first mass health problem linked to toxic school environments in China.
Last November, authorities in the southern city of Shenzhen tore up an athletics track after tests showed it contained more than 140 times the permitted level of the toxic chemical methylbenzene.
The problems emerged after about 250 students in the school suffered multiple symptoms including fever, coughing, nosebleeds, and rashes since the track was installed, the Global Times newspaper reported.
China's education ministry has ordered a probe into the quality of school running tracks. Problems have been blamed on a lack of implementation of environmental safety guidelines, the paper said.
Students in schools in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shaanxi, Shanghai, and northeast China have reported symptoms similar to those suffered by the Chengdu students, it said.
China has adopted national standards for the quality of rubber used as track material, but no standards for adhesives and additives used in the process of construction, the paper quoted experts as saying.
Greenpeace campaigners have said plasticizers used in such tracks can disrupt children's hormones, as well as leading to lead poisoning.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.