Spotlight on Playground Safety

Every day thousands of elementary school students will flood playgrounds across the U.S. when it is time for their recess period. More than just a time for students to play with their friends and take a break from their school books, recess encourages physical activity and boosts academic performance. Because recess plays such an important part in students’ overall health, school leadership and parents want to know that playgrounds are safe, which is why concrete and gravel playgrounds are becoming a thing of the past. Recycled rubber tile and rubber mulch have been seen as a safer alternative that reduces injury from tripping and falling, but there are now other concerns regarding the environmental safety of recycled rubber. Nic Campesi, partner at Jelly Bean Rubber Mulch, discusses some of the potential health risks associated with recycled rubber and the advantages of switching to virgin rubber.

What are some of the health risks associated with recycled rubber on playgrounds?

Serious concerns have been raised by leading health experts over many of the ingredients and additives used to make the tires that are converted to playground rubber mulch. The largest filler in a tire is a substance called carbon black which is a respiratory irritant.  

Tires contain carcinogens, heavy metals, Phthalates, PAHs (Poly Aromatic Hydrocarbons) and more. Another concern is the wire from the tire not being fully removed from the product being sold as playground grade mulch. While most tire mulch is guaranteed to be 99.99% wire free, this always leaves the possibility to find a piece.  

What are some of the key differences between virgin rubber and recycled rubber that make virgin rubber safer for children?

The last thought on the mind of a tire compounder is your children playing on the product at its end of life. Virgin rubber mulch is compounded for children to play on. It meets strict standards by not using the harmful ingredients and additives that are present in post-consumer tire rubber. Virgin rubber is new; it is not used rubber. So, by using pre-consumer virgin rubber you also do not risk contamination from the outside environment, which can come from motor oil on the road, lane paint and other highly toxic elements.

Aside from health and environmental reasons, what are other advantages to implementing virgin rubber in playgrounds?

Fall safety is a big advantage. Rubber will outperform other options in terms of safety, but the long-term economics are also a major plus. When you install a virgin rubber safety surface it could pay for itself in a few years and last for decades. While you may have to spend a little more upfront, it truly does pay for itself many times over during its lifespan.  

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