I saw this article recently and it made me think of all of the playgrounds in northwest Florida that have rubber mulch. When I first moved to the area, I thought it was a great idea instead of sand or a hard packed surface then I started to wonder if it was really as beneficial as I thought it was when I thought about how hot it gets here and whether or not some of the chemicals could literally rub into my children as they played in it….
NBC News recently conducted an investigation on playgrounds with rubber mulch and whether or not they are as beneficial as touted to be. They found a public playground in Oregon which has the black rubber mulch. The playground was installed in 2009, and the rubber mulch was touted as a benefit because it can cushion kids’ falls better than anything else. Parents noticed their children’s clothes would be black after playing and they struggled to keep their toddlers from not putting the tire crumbs in their mouth. They wondered – is this actually a benefit?
The parents started to research rubber infill. What they found, they said, launched them on a campaign to replace the rubber. They found that the chemicals in tires are most likely not removed just be shredding and putting them on a playground.
The U.S. government, however, is sending parents mixed messages about rubber mulch.
The rubber mulch in the Oregon playground is made of the same recycled tire rubber that is used as infill in crumb rubber artificial turf. A previous NBC News investigation raised questions about the safety of crumb rubber turf, which has been rolled out in thousands of U.S. parks, soccer fields and stadiums. More than two dozen studies have attempted to measure the potential health risks of crumb rubber surfaces. While many have found no negative health effects, some doctors and toxicologists believe these studies are limited and insufficient to establish conclusively that shredded rubber surfaces are safe.
The difference between rubber mulch and crumb rubber artificial turf is that the federal government actively promotes the use of mulch — despite conflicting signals from the agencies charged with protecting children’s health and ensuring consumer product safety. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges that more studies of crumb rubber need to be done, and has retracted an earlier assurance that crumb rubber turf is safe. Both the EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), however, recommend and promote rubber mulch. The EPA has worked with industry representatives and state officials to increase the use of tire mulch in playgrounds, and the CPSC recommends mulch in the handbook it provides to playground planners across the country.
Experts wonder if that sort of cumulative exposure results in a buildup of these toxic chemicals, which can then result in a buildup of cellular damage that’s caused by these chemicals, that can then result in disease years or decades later. As one expert found, little children should not be put in a situation where they’re forced to be in intimate contact with carcinogenic chemicals.
“What’s Low for a Child?”
NBC interviewed Dr. Landrigan, whose research in the 1970s on children exposed to lead by a smelting company, is credited with spurring the widespread regulation of the heavy metal, said that currently available studies on rubber infill are “inadequate.” There is not one study, he said, that attempts to measure the effects that long-term, repeated exposure to tire shreds or ground rubber could have on young children. While the International Agency for Research on Cancer says that, at low levels of exposure, carcinogenic chemicals are safe, Landrigan said the repeated exposure of children to such carcinogens and chemicals put them at greater risk than adults, even at low levels. Behavioral traits unique to children, like putting things in their mouths, increase their risk of exposure. They breathe, eat and drink more relative to their body weight than adults. They also have many more years of life in which to develop disease triggered by early exposure to a carcinogen. “Several substances found in tires are concerning, Landrigan added. “Butadiene is a known human carcinogen,” he said. “Styrene is a neuro-toxic chemical. It can cause injury to the brain and nerves. Truck tires also contain other toxic chemicals. All of these chemicals that are part and parcel of the tires get into the crumb, which goes into the field.”
We Will Carefully Review Any New Findings”
The EPA declined to speak to NBC News, but said in a statement that it does not plan to commission further studies because it considers the safety of crumb rubber to be a “state and local issue.” The Consumer Product Safety Commission also has no plans to create standards for the chemical composition of tire mulch used in playgrounds.
It makes me wonder if in ten years, we are going to have young adults that have mysterious cancers that then are linked to exposure to these rubber mulch playgrounds. Regardless, it looks like the government is taking a hands off approach and it will be the parents who will have to make their own decisions. As long as rubber infill remains unregulated and unstudied by government agencies, it will have to be the parents who connect the dots and make the decision of what they will expose their children to.