Students line up doing exercise on playground at a primary school in Shanghai on Dec. 18, 2012
Darcy Holdorf—Reuters
June 10, 2016 4:26 AM EDT

All synthetic school running tracks and sports fields in the Chinese capital are to be tested, state media has revealed, after toxic substances were discovered in at least one campus that apparently caused children to suffer nose bleeds, headaches, allergies as well as irritated eyes and skin.

Dozens of pupils at Beijing No.2 Experimental School’s Baiyunlu campus suffered a litany of ailments after running on the track last month. “Tests on the track this week, nine months after it was put into use, showed excessive amounts of benzene substances and formaldehyde,” reported China’s state newswire Xinhua, referring to highly toxic poisons.

Similar reports had previously emerged in China’s Jiangsu, Guangdong, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Henan and Sichuan provinces. Authorities in Shenzhen tore up an athletics track last November after tests showed over 140 times permitted levels of the toxic chemical methylbenzene, according to the BBC citing the Beijing Bulletin.

Users of China’s Twitter-like microblog Weibo were quick to chime in with their own experiences. The hashtag #ToxicSchoolTrack has been trending in recent weeks.

“Exposed to the burning sun, unregulated plastic running tracks emit toxic gases, pouring into my child’s body,” posted one Weibo user. “Every day after school, my child goes to bed first because of a headache. For my child to grow up healthy, I would rather they use an unpaved, dirt playground.”

The discovery is the latest public-health scandal to grip Chinese parents, after the revelation in April that almost 500 children at a school near Shanghai developed serious illnesses traced back to the illegal dumping of toxic waste nearby. This is compounded by a general fear of excess air and water pollution and poor food safety.

“How ridiculous! We use students’ nose bleeds to test the quality of the running track,” posted another Weibo user. “Where is the regulation? Where are the inspection documents? Poor children become living detectors.”

In an apparent effort to curb public outrage, a commentary appeared in state media this week bemoaning the lack of a unified national standard on the quality of school running tracks, and urging “construction companies, regulators and school managers to be conscientious about their jobs and scrutinize work properly.”

More Must-Read Stories From TIME

Write to Charlie Campbell at

Read More From TIME
Related Stories