It is back to school time, and whether you child plays at a park or a school, you have probably been on a playground that uses recycled tires for cushioning. In the past, I have questioned the safety of children playing with old tires; however, I remember enjoy tire swings immensely as a child. Now, the Green Guide has reported on the safety of recycled tire cushioning found on many playgrounds.
A few years ago, we installed new playground equipment at our school. As the teacher in charge of the project, I was encouraged by parents to explore the option of recycled tires for cushioning, which comes in either a mulch or mat. At first, I thought this was a good idea as it involved recycling and really does provide a great cushioning, but in the end we chose pea gravel for cost, environmental, and safety concerns.
In the US, 290 million scrap tires are generated each year! Reusing them in playgrounds is a good idea from a recycling viewpoint, but what about our children’s safety? To create playground cushioning, the tires are ground up and magnets are used to remove metals; however, according to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), ground up tires release 49 different chemicals, including seven carcinogens. As the tire playground surfaces age and are exposed to light and heat, these chemicals, which include heavy metals, are released into little lungs. New tire surfaces outgas VOCs for up to two years. Of course, OEHHA says the impact on a child’s health is minimal and would result in nothing more than a stomachache. Other environmental groups disagree.
When you consider the potential risks to our children, as well ecological risks to fish and wildlife, recycled tires are not the best choice for playground cushioning. The Green Guide recommends wood chips; however, I feel that pea gravel is a more sustainable option that needs replenishing less often to meet the cushioning requirements. The next time my kids want to play on a recycled tire playground, I think we will walk on by to a playground made with safer materials.