The new children’s playground installed by the Vale of Glamorgan Council at Plassey Square was being completed thsi week and should be available to local children – under 12 years of age – in the next few days.
The blue, green and sand-coloured top-surface of the new playground is composed of “crumbs” of virgin rubber [i.e. rubber that hasn’t been recycled] but that is bonded to lower layer of black rubber chips which are derived from recycled car tyres.
A European Union report published last month concluded that there is “at most, a very low level of concern from exposure to recycled rubber granules” in artificial sports fields, – allaying fears about risks posed by chemicals present in the rubber. More than 30% of used tyres in the EU are now being recyclsed for use in sports fields and playgrounds.
However, in the USA where 8% of the nation’s scrap tyres are now being processed for playground surfaces, the use of rubber from recycled car-tyres in areas where young children play is controversial .
The American National Centre for Health Research says “There has been increasing evidence that raises concerns about the safety of recycled tire material used on playground surfaces. While tire rubber includes natural rubber from rubber trees, it also contains phthalates (chemicals that affect hormones), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals known or suspected to cause adverse health effects.”
The United States Environmental Protection Agency says breathing air contaminated with PAHs may increase a person’s chance of developing cancer, and the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) states that PAHs “may increase the risk for cancer and also increase the chances of birth defects.”
The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) tests showed that a single incident of eating or touching tire shreds would probably not harm a child’s health, but repeated or long-term exposure might. Five chemicals, including four PAHs, were found on wipe samples. One of the PAHs, “chrysene,” was higher than the risk level established by the OEHHA, and therefore, could possibly increase the chances of a child developing cancer.
American National Centre for Health Research advises parents to “actively persuade local officials that playgrounds should use wood chips rather than recycled rubber or other substances that are less safe when children fall, and more dangerous in terms of chemicals that they breathe or get on their hands.”
The other American agencies – the CDC, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and EPA all recommend that children are taught the importance of frequent hand-washing, especially after playing outside and before eating. The EPA has said the latest studies “do not comprehensively address new questions and concerns about children’s health risks from exposure to crumb rubber”.
According to the Daily Telegraph “In Holland parents of boys at the Ajax academy De Toekomst in Amsterdam received letters last week to reassure them that from now on, not only would their children not be playing on any of the club’s 3G pitches with rubber crumb infill, but those pitches were being removed.”
A report by the European Chemicals Agency says however it “has found no reason to advise people against playing sports on synthetic turf containing recycled rubber granules.”. Whilst there are hazardous substances in the granules, they are in low concentrations, the report says.
The children’s playground at Cliff Walk, has been cleared of its equipment and the ground prepared for the installation of similar rubber-crumb surfacing, but work at this site has yet to start.
The Vale of Glamorgan Council is spending £200,000 to upgrade play facilities ahead of the May council elections and carried out a “consultation” with local residents about the proposed “upgrades” but it’s not known whether this included discussion of the material chosen for the surfaces of the play areas.