Toxic soup on Games menu
Chronic water and air pollution caused by industrial toxins and pesticides mean cancer has risen to be China's leading killer, accounting for 23 per cent of all deaths, it emerged yesterday.
At the same time, it was revealed that 40 of China's top athletes fell ill because of foul air-conditioning in the country's sports headquarters in January and have been forced to withdraw from competition.
Filthy air-conditioning systems have been blamed for outbreaks of disease in hotels and apartment blocks in the capital.
Australia's Olympic committee is about to begin a program of inoculation for athletes who may be involved in the Olympics, and may issue health warnings in co-operation with the Department of Foreign Affairs as the Games draw closer.
But the committee denied last night that it had any concerns for the health of athletes and officials, saying Beijing's new Olympic Village would be clean and safe, and that the vaccinations were standard procedure for teams travelling to Asia.
Chinese authorities have promised to crack down on air-conditioning in Olympic hotels and sporting venues after a recent investigation by China's national broadcaster CCTV.
It found many air-conditioning systems were rarely cleaned because it was cheaper to risk being inspected and paying the paltry fine, just 800 yuan ($130) in Shanghai, than spend tens of thousands of yuan maintaining the systems.
In one case, two tonnes of waste, including dead rats and takeaway food left by construction workers, was collected when the ventilation system of a 19-storey Beijing office building was cleaned recently for the first time since it was built in the early 1990s.
Despite the health fears, Australian Olympic authorities said there would be no preliminary scouting of venues or hotels before the Games, and that the Olympic village, where food will be supplied by an international catering company, was considered safe.
"Other team support staff will be staying in modern hotels in the city, and we are not concerned about health standards at these hotels," an Australian Olympic Committee spokesman said. Athletes will drink bottled water and are allowed to take some packaged foods to China.
About 1000 potential team members will be offered jabs for hepatitis, typhoid, polio, tetanus, whooping cough and diptheria, measles, mumps and rubella, and influenza.
"This is simply a precautionary measure to ensure the athletes don't fall ill before or during competition," said the committee's president, John Coates.
China's Olympic organising committee has said air pollution will be its first priority before the Games.
But the use of pesticides and food additives was the main cause of the alarming rise in cancer rates, said the Chinese Health Ministry, which surveyed 30 cities and 78 counties.
"Many chemical and industrial enterprises are built along rivers so that they can dump the waste into water easily," said Chen Zhizhou, a health expert who works with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.
"Excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides also pollute underground water. The contaminated water has directly affected soil, crops and food," Mr Chen told the China Daily, adding that pollution "is getting worse day by day".
Big contributors to the growing cancer rates were found to be air pollution that causes harmful particles to become lodged in the lungs, formaldehyde and other compounds used in building renovations and furniture, and additives used to make livestock grow faster.
After the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, the Government legislated that all air-conditioning in public places had to be cleaned at least annually, but a Ministry of Health official told CCTV that less than 1 per cent of buildings in Shanghai and Beijing complied.
The health figures come amid a rash of related health scandals. Yesterday the Herald reported that some textiles imported from China contained up to 10 times the amount of formaldehyde permitted under international standards.
The Chinese Government moved to soothe the anxieties, saying it paid attention to consumer safety.Technorati Tags: china, olympic