An expert on playground safety in Iowa is standing behind the use of recycled rubber for play surfaces, despite concerns raised by the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA officials are studying the health hazards associated with repeated exposure to tire crumbs.
Donna Thompson is director of the National Program for Playground Safety based at the University of Northern Iowa. "At this point, I’m more concerned about there being metal in the rubber," Thompson said. "The playground surfacing manufacturers are supposed to being taking the lead out so that can’t bother children either."
Around a half dozen synthetic playing fields, made with recycled rubber, were closed down last year in New York and New Jersey because of high lead levels. Thompson doubts rubber playground surfaces contain enough toxins to be dangerous. "Some years ago, there was concern about CCA, which is another kind of chemical that goes into wood products. They’re not supposed to use that with on any kind of material used by children, so they don’t eat it," Thompson said.
"But, it really took a whole teaspoon of that material in order to cause a kid to have any serious problem." Playground injuries send roughly 200,000 U.S. children to hospital emergency rooms every year. Thompson says playgrounds made with rubber surfaces are proven to lessen the risk of injury from falls – especially compared to concrete or wood surfaces or even surfaces made of sand or bark mulch.
"In addition to that, I think they’re really good for Iowa in particular when our weather changes so much," Thompson said. "When we get as much rain as we’ve had this year in the Spring, they’re not going to dissolve or rot the way some wood products do."