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Asbestos risk threatens baseball schedule

The Environment Ministry plans to request that related organizations suspend the use of five baseball fields used in national league games, where a civic group claimed harmful asbestos was detected, officials said Tuesday.

Later in the day, officials from relevant ministries, the Korea Baseball Organization and provincial governments held an emergency meeting to discuss the threat posed by the substance, known to cause lung cancer if inhaled with a latent period of about 30 years.

The five baseball parks are located in Jamsil in Seoul, Sajik in Busan, Munhak in Incheon, as well as Suwon and Guri, both in Gyeonggi Province.

The Asian Citizens’ Center for Environment and Health said on Monday that after analyzing 18 soil samples taken from the five ballparks, it found 0.25-1 percent of asbestos in each sample.

“We seriously accept the outcome of the civic group’s investigation that shows asbestos was detected in the baseball fields which players run on, and many citizens visit,” a ministry official said, declining to be named.

“We will soon survey the amount of asbestos in the air and other possibilities of contamination at the fields. As a short-term measure, we will request that related organizations stop the use of the baseball parks.”

Choi Ye-yong, chief of the civic group which conducted the analysis jointly with the Graduate School of Public Health at Seoul National University, called for immediate action to remove asbestos.

“We should temporarily shut down the baseball fields and scrape out the soil with asbestos,” he said.

Other civic groups also joined the call for the closure of the contaminated baseball parks.

“It is the most serious situation that asbestos ― 10 times more than the normal amount ― was detected. Olivine soil should be removed,” a member of the Busan Federation for Environmental Movement said during a press conference in front of Busan City Hall.

“Plus, there should be a health check on players and referees who have a higher risk of being exposed to the substance.”

Should the Culture Ministry, Seoul City and KBO, which have the rights to shutdown the parks in question, accept the request from the Environment Ministry, the baseball programs are expected to face delays or other troubles.

As a makeshift measure, KBO and other entities concerned with this issue reportedly plan to replace the fields’ contaminated soils with clean earth and then spray water on them to prevent traces of asbestos getting in the air.

Critics have also pointed out that there is no law yet to regulate the amount of asbestos in minerals including olivine.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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