Boycott Watch  
May 19, 2008
China Olympic Venues May be Deadly
Summary: Would you trader your personal safety for trinkets on ribbons?
    In light of the recent earthquakes in China which have resulted in as many as 50,000 deaths thus far, Boycott Watch has investigated building codes in China and spoke to engineers to get a consensus of what safety issues may exist, if any, in the new buildings China has constructed for the Olympics.

    Before even considering building practices in China, it is important to note the safety standards China adheres to when manufacturing goods for export, as well as Chinese consumer protection practices. With the high number of reports of dangerous levels of lead and other hazardous chemicals found in Chinese goods exported to the U.S., China essentially has zero safety standards, as Chinese manufacturers only comply with cosmetic requirements. While China may claim to have consumer protection laws in place, such laws may as well not exist since they are not being enforced.

    Essentially, China does not care about Americans or even their own people. Recent articles in The Wall Street Journal have exposed the fact that Chinese farms, in many cases, exist in the shadows of factories which spew out dangerous chemicals that leach into the food supply, and many of those foods find their way to the U.S., and in many cases are untested for wide range of contaminants which have been discovered not by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but by private research laboratories.

    As for U.S. Olympic tourists who will naturally eat the local fare as opposed to dragging a suitcase of food from home, they may later be in for a surprise at their doctor's office because of what they really ate on that trip. While Americans like to complain about the U.S.F.D.A., the fact is that China has proved the value of such protections here in the U.S.

    Getting back to the Olympic venues, China is far behind the world when it comes to safe building standards. While there have been many reports of people being killed constructing the Olympic venues, China has consistently denied access to such information so we really do not know the full story. What we do know is that these accidents are covered over, thus safety issues are not in the open or a concern of China. As long as China does not care about their own workers, one has to wonder about the general safety standards for spectators in the buildings.

    Much of the criticism related to China's death toll from the recent earthquake stems from lax building code standards and a rush to construct in the affected region. There is an eerie parallel related to the Beijing Olympics - China is in fact rushing to complete sporting arenas, thus triggering questions about what corners may have been cut, coupled with the fact that China has virtually zero experience with such structures.

    The U.S. has learned many lessons from our engineering mistakes, and far more from materials research. Engineers will tell you part of what they do is figure out how to do the most with the least amount of materials. When engineers make mistakes, or especially when construction companies try to cut corners, the people who pay the ultimate price are the innocent people who are expecting to have a wonderful experience.

    In sporting venues, we have seen roofs collapse in US arenas. In Europe, we have seen bleachers collapse. The new arenas in China will not have been tested with the weight of the spectators, not to mention if they all stand at once, thus suddenly shifting weight. Another concern is the ability of people to exit quickly in the event of an actual emergency - efficient exit strategies are crucial in stadium designs dating back to the Roman Coliseum. Insufficient exists have lead to deaths in panics related to fires in night clubs in the U.S. over the past few years. The famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 is on the mind of every engineer and firefighter in the U.S., as locked doors directly resulted in 146 deaths.

    One of the most horrific recent engineering failures is the Kansas City Hyatt Hotel walkway disaster in 1981. An engineering and construction error resulted in the death of 114 people, and that was after considerable planning and safety checks. While engineering mistakes resulting in deaths will happen from time to time, U.S. engineers have learned from mistakes over the years and have decades of shared experience to prevent future disasters.

    China is rushing to complete the Olympic arenas, many of which may never host sporting events again, ever. China has, therefore, many reasons to cut costs, thus cutting corners. Even if China learned safety lessons from the recent earthquake, it is too late for China to implement any substantial safety changes in time for the summer Olympics. Adding to the safety concerns, we recently learned that China simply does not have the equipment necessary to facilitate a proper earthquake rescue, thus opening additional questions about China's ability to respond to a natural disaster at the Olympics, or even worse, a terrorist attack.

    If China is constructing Olympic venues with the same care they put into the children's toys they export to the U.S., not to mention their other recent earthquake recovery history, there is simply no reason Americans should trust China to build safe structures for the Olympics, not to mention China's inability to respond to an actual emergency. If anything, China's coming out party will potentially be a major disaster.

    The Chinese government needs bring international engineers and safety experts to China to immediately inspect the Olympic facilities. Barring that, it is better to cancel the Olympics if safety concerns exist rather than risk lives over trinkets on ribbons, silver, gold and lead.

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