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Concerns about modern playground surfaces were first raised decades ago, when recycled tire crumb rubber became a popular playground surface. The recycled tires often contained lead and other heavy metals, and public health experts were especially concerned that using the bite-sized material on playgrounds could unnecessarily expose small children, particularly toddlers, who are prone to putting objects in their mouths.
Nowadays, many municipalities searching for new playground surfaces know enough to stay away from tire crumb rubber.
But many continue to install what’s called “pour in place” rubber, flat, spongy rubber surfaces that can contain other chemicals of concern, like polyaromatic hydrocarbons, phthalates, and volatile organic compounds. Those more solid rubber surfaces can also contain additives and binders that could harm the health of children, though the exact chemicals vary by manufacturer.
Artificial turf, long-popular on athletic fields, has also been marketed as a playground surface. Some PFAS are used to manufacture the plastic grass blades (Greenwire, Dec. 8, 2021).