Are DC playground materials safe for kids? Council to fund study

Is the recycled rubber padding going in at playgrounds and fields safe? The District is set to fund a study to reassure a small group of concerned parents and determine what should or should not be allowed in the future.

The playground material looks like permeable pavement, and is usually made up of things like recycled tires. The study, funded with an additional $100,000 the D.C. Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment proposed adding to the budget, is expected to check things like how hard the material is compared to dirt and assess whether there are any potential health impacts from anything like lead that may be in the recycled rubber.

Combined with another planned review, and under a law passed in December, Council Member Mary Cheh said this will provide the city “with the information necessary to assess and remediate any health risks.”

The study is also expected to lead to a list of synthetic materials that can and cannot be used to build future playgrounds, fields or other recreational spaces, a list that other parts of the region could consider too when comparing the risks of what is found in soil to the risks of anything in the synthetic materials.

One of the most vocal parents’ groups on the issue posted an analysis Thursday claiming there is lead in the playground base materials at Janney Elementary School in Tenleytown.

It is not clear whether any chemicals or heavy metals would pose a health risk, or in what circumstances, and there are no federal requirements that govern.

For turf fields, hardness can become a more significant issue when they are not taken care of with significant maintenance work recommended by the manufacturers. Getting rid of maintenance and keeping fields available even after heavy rains are two of the most common justifications for turf fields.

The D.C. Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment also recommended pushing harder to get experts across multiple District agencies, including energy and environment, general services and health, to work together to consider the best materials for fields and playgrounds.

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