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73 kids miss first day of school

(Global Times)

15:38, September 03, 2011

Local primary school students in Xuhui district head to class on Thursday as the new semester starts in the city. Photo: Cai Xianmin/GT

Seventy-three of 203 enrolled kids missed the first day of the school at the newly built Wunan Kindergarten in Shanghai on Thursday, when parents pulled their children from class – worried about their health safety due to "pungent fumes" remaining in the building from construction work carried out during the summer.

Concerned parents said that construction for the new Xuhui district school campus on Huaihai Road was supposed to be complete by June, but workers were still seen on site a few days ago.

"The workers were painting; the fumes were strong," one parent, who asked not to be named, told the Global Times on Thursday.

"We're worried the paint fumes may harm our children's health, if they sit in the classroom all day inhaling them."

The mother added that the situation has prompted her to transfer her son to a different school, even if it means having to send her child to a place farther from home.

Kindergarten authorities on Thursday confirmed the absence of the children, but said that some of them could have stayed home because of other reasons, such as not having returned home from their summer vacations.

Gong Min, principal of the kindergarten, refuted the idea that the school was not a safe place for kids on Thursday, saying that it had tested the air quality in the building days ago.

"We had an indoor environment quality check done to make sure the air quality was okay," she told the Global Times on Thursday. "The test results have met local safety standards."

Gong denied that any smell of new paint lingered in the building, but said that air purifiers and plants have been added to classrooms for the benefit of any children, who are highly sensitive to such smells. More outdoor time will also be scheduled, she added.

But parents on Thursday claimed that the measures were not good enough, especially given that the test carried out at the school was based on standards more lenient than those applied to a city construction standard for kindergartens.

According to Li Weinian, a spokesman in charge of infrastructure for Xuhui Education Bureau, there are two applicable standards in this case, but the one that the parents want is not compulsory.

"Both tests, however, meet mandatory national standards," he told local media on Thursday. "But, if parents still have doubts, it is possible to arrange a second test."

Li Wei, deputy secretary of Shanghai Environmental Protection Research Institute, said on Thursday it would not hurt to have a second test carried out.

"The standards used for the test the school ran is not as thorough because the second test takes a closer look at the formation of pollutants, particularly formaldehyde, which build up gradually over time and pose health risks," he told the Global Times on Thursday. "A second test could help clear the air on the situation."

He added that kids, who spend more than eight hours at a time in an environment that exudes a continuous concentration of formaldehyde, increase risk of cancer.

Another parent, who also preferred not to be named, told the Global Times on Thursday that she and other parents plan to wait until after the weekend to reassess the situation before deciding whether to send their kids to school on Monday.

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