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Asbestos scare spreads to schools

Ministry inspects school playgrounds for cancer-causing agent

Fear of asbestos is spreading fast among the public after an environmental group claimed to have found high levels of the cancer-causing agent in many school playgrounds and baseball fields where professional games are held.

The Education Ministry said on Tuesday it is inspecting playgrounds of all the schools where asbestos has allegedly turned up.

The Asian Citizen’s Center for Environment and Health claimed over the weekend that it had detected the hazardous substance in soil collected from eight schools and five baseball stadiums nationwide, in levels as much as 37 times higher than the permissible 0.1 percent.

“We’re taking samples of the dirt from the schools. We’ll take necessary steps, once the test results come out,” an official at the ministry said.

In the meantime, the playgrounds are covered with tents to keep students off, the official added.

The ballparks, however, will be in use for a while, after authorities including the Ministry of Environment decided to go ahead with game schedules of the ongoing professional league.

Officials at the Environment Ministry said they have launched an investigation along with the private experts in order to verify the asbestos claims, and, if the existence of asbestos is confirmed, they will remove contaminated soil completely.

For games to be held, officials will spray water on the ground from time to time to prevent asbestos fibers from getting into the air, they said.

The national baseball league ends early next month.

Environmental groups, however, demand the ballparks be closed off immediately to protect players, umpires and spectators from health risks. They also urge the government to inspect other sports facilities, such as tennis courts and soccer fields.

The five parks are Jamsil stadium in Seoul, Sajik stadium in Busan, Munhak statdium in Incheon and two others in Guri and Suwon, both in Gyeonggi Province.

It is alleged that those ballparks and schools used certain types of mineral, called olivine and serpentine, which have been mined from former asbestos mines near Andong, North Gyeongsang Province.

At present, there are no regulations against the use of olivine, serpentine and other asbestos-containing minerals in sports fields.

The ministry said related laws will go into effect April next year and set a legal guideline on the use of 12 minerals, including the above mentioned two.

Also, schools and public buildings constructed before 2009 will face periodic inspections for asbestos, under the new law, the officials said.

Korea has banned the manufacture, import and use of products with asbestos concentration exceeding 0.1 percent since 2009.

By Lee Sun-young (
Korea Herald Youtube