Are Your Children Playing in a Toxic Playground?

Having children play outside on playground and fields is a way to ensure that they are given a chance to participate in physical outdoor activities and engage in athletics. Soon enough, the first plastic playground, “Chemgrass,” which resembled natural grass, was constructed. The number of artificial fields has tripled since their construction in 1960.


Artificial Playground

Lately, there has been a caution that children could be playing on potentially toxic playgrounds without their guardians’ knowledge.

Note that the more time children engage in different sports activities, the more concerns these artificial playgrounds raised.

Athletes complained that these artificial fields were harder than natural grass. Subsequent studies supported the complaint as it showed an increase in the risk for football and other sport related injuries. As a result, the English Football Association banned the use of artificial turf in 1988, and in the 1990s, the United States adopted the use of natural grass on ballparks and professional stadiums.
For other remaining artificial playground and fields, rubber was added to provide more cushioning and to maintain the position of the artificial grass blades.

There are approximately 4,500 playgrounds, tracks, and fields in the United States, and the use of artificial turf wasn’t banned altogether because it does have its own advantages. For one, artificial turf can withstand all weather conditions, hence it is can be used for a long time. It also requires minimal maintenance compared to a field with natural grass.

From Tire Swings to Play Surfaces Made From Tires

Tire SwingSome time back children used to play on tire swings in the backyard or at the park. Now the tires are being recycled and used as raw materials for constructing children’s playgrounds, a move that may be hazardous.

United States Environmental Protection Agency approximates that 290 scrap tires are generated yearly with 28 million being used as surface for artificial turfs. Despite recycled scrap tires being viewed as raw materials that could be less harmless to children when they fall, there have been more disadvantages than expected. These disadvantages include harboring rodents and other animals and trapping stagnant water, therefore, providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other disease-causing insects. Besides, disposed tires are more flammable and harmful since they release toxic chemicals polluting air and groundwater. The following are some of the materials used on playgrounds construction:

  • Surface raked loose tire shred or “crumb”
  • Tire shreds mixed with a binder then poured onto a durable surface
  • Tires manufactured from tire shreds and binder that is factory-molded and glued to the field’s surface.

Are Playfields Made from Recycled Tires Potentially Dangerous to Children

Rubber Turf PlaygroundRecycled tire materials used on playground surfaces have more concerns regarding safety. The tires have been identified to cause health problems due to the other chemicals added to natural rubber. These chemicals contain phthalates that affect hormones, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). For example, PAHs chemicals are naturally or artificially made by burning oil, gas, coal or garbage, increases cancer risks when breathed in and also birth defects.

What Scientific Studies Say

Studies carried in 2007 by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) investigated the health risks children were being exposed to while playing on these surfaces. One of the studies evaluated some chemicals that could harm children after contact by ways such as through eating them or touching them then later touching their mouth. The other two studies established the risk of injuries from falling on these grounds compared to wood chips and also determined whether these tire shreds could contaminate air or water.

The researchers used chemical solutions that resembled conditions of a child’s stomach, added 10 grams of tire shreds and left it to settle for 21 hours at 37 degrees Celsius. In the case of the children touching tires then touching their mouth, the study involved the use of wipes to wipe tire shreds then measuring the volume of chemicals in the wipes. The researchers used guinea pigs to test effects of the fragments on the skin. Results of these studies showed that continuous or long-term exposure to these chemicals increased chances of children developing cancer. Studies done showed that 20% of the tested chemicals could cause cancer and body reactions, and 24% of the respiratory irritants could cause asthma symptoms, 37% irritate the skin, and 27% could cause eyes irritation.

What the EPA Has Done

United States Environmental Protection AgencyThe EPA organized a field study that collected and analyzed data artificial turf fields and playgrounds that used recycled tire materials. The agency collected several samples and released a report that concluded the level of chemicals detected were of no concern. However, results of these studies had various limitations since the study did not include the concentration of organic compounds that vaporize during summer.

EPA could not establish reliable results due to the small number of samples used, so they joined other organizations in recommending that children should frequently wash their hands after playing on these fields. Later a meeting was convened in 2010 by EPA member states to discuss health effects of exposure to chemicals on recycled tire-rubber-made playgrounds. EPA finally concluded that human cancer could be caused by breathing PAHs and through skin contact.

How to Protect Your Children?

A current disturbing question is how one can protect children playing in these fields. The rate at which children are likely to be harmed by exposure to these chemicals is higher than in adults because they are small, and their bodies are undergoing development. It is, therefore, advisable to try and avoid any contact that a child may have with hazardous chemicals. Ensure your kids play on natural grass playgrounds.

Parents should also participate actively in campaigns aiming at persuading government officials to use wood chips instead of recycled tire shreds in constructing playgrounds. Also, these materials should be free of chemicals.

Recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and EPA educate parents on the importance of frequent hand washing after playing outside and before eating. It is also advisable that a child should remove his or her shoes and clothes before entering the house in case of loose tire shreds.

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