If you are a playground owner or operator you already know that your choice of playground surfacing is one of the most important decisions you will make. You may have read that roughly 70 percent of playground injuries are due to falls to unsafe surfaces. You probably considered whether the surfacing was impacting, attenuating, whether or not it was accessible and what you would need to do to maintain the surfacing, as well as a number of other factors.
Among those factors, did surfacing health risks for your users come to mind?
The recent NBC news stories reporting the growing concerns over the use of recycled tires as playground mulch and within some sports turf has certainly sparked the gamut of emotions from worry to confusion to curiosity for many park and recreation agencies, playground owners and parents. Many are beginning to reassess whether playground mulch made from recycled rubber is a potential health risk for children.
The answer seems to be as elusive as whether a low carb or low fat diet is best.
There are many studies that have been referenced by both sides in the debate. Most show these products to be of no health risk while others show potential carcinogenic chemicals exposure.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) includes shredded rubber mulch as an acceptable loose fill surfacing material, but does state that the manufacturer should provide test data on the toxicity of the product.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has conducted limited studies. They conclude, “On average, concentrations of components monitored in this study were below levels of concern; however, given the very limited nature of this study (i.e., limited number of components monitored, samples sites, and samples taken at each site) and the wide diversity of tire crumb material, it is not possible to reach any more comprehensive conclusions without the consideration of additional data.” Both the CPSC and the EPA have recently called the matter a “state and local decision.”
Voluntary playground surfacing standards published by the ASTM International, set specifications relating to impact attenuation and manufacturing however the standards do not purport to address all of the safety concerns associated with the use of crumb rubber surfacing. ASTM F3012-14 Standard Specification for Loose-Fill Rubber for Use as a Playground Safety Surface under and around Playground Equipment includes under its scope that it is the responsibility of the user of this standard to establish appropriate safety and health practices and determine the applicability of regulatory limitations prior to use.
Park and recreation agencies should use all the available resources before making a decision on purchasing, maintaining or replacing their playground surfacing. As purchasing decisions are being made you are likely examining the pros and cons of each type of playground surface. This is just another consideration of which to be mindful.
Whichever type of surfacing you choose we recommend that you follow the Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines found in the CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook. Fifteen states have adopted all or parts of these guidelines into law. Whether your state has adopted the CPSC playground safety guidelines into law or not, following the guidelines demonstrate that as an owner you are operating your playgrounds using “reasonable care,” a common standard in negligence lawsuits.
NRPA is committed to supporting park and recreation agencies and playground safety. We’ll be exploring the issues surrounding crumb rubber in the March 2015 issue of Parks & Recreation.
In the meantime, the following list includes several resources for you to review as you evaluate crumb rubber playground surfacing and playground safety.
Are you evaluating the use of crumb rubber in your park and recreation facilities? Leave a comment below or tweet us @NRPA_News.
Caroline Smith, CPSI, is NRPA's senior manager for professional development.