Threat of toxic playgrounds

23/01/2012 1:01

Wow! You can certainly say this about the Australian press, if it’s a contemporary global topic, they’re sure to pounce on it -six months to a year later.

I have posted previously on this issue, see Dangers of Artificial Turf  and while we’re looking at potentially dangerous surfaces in childcare centres/services lets not be myopic, see Schools and Daycare Are Top Sources of Kids’ Toxic Chemical Exposure.

We have used artifical turf in natural playspace projects in the past. Generally it was used in projects where because of exceptionally high foot traffic, excessive shade, extreme weather conditions, or being positioned in an area that would not allow the installation of real turf (raised slabs, rooftop playspaces etc) it was the more practical and safe alternative.
Like most things you get what you pay for and we recommend people who intend to install artificial turf do their research (see the questions to ask in  Dangers of Artificial Turf ) and chose a manufacturer/installer who can provide proof of the safety of their product and abides by the ANZ safety and quality standards. In the past we have used the Australian manufacturer and supplier Flexitec.

The American Society of Landscapes Architects Magazine, LAM  (01/2012) provides a  detailed article entitled A Shopper’s Guide to Fake Grass”, which gives an analyse of the physical make up of various artificial grasses, different methods of grass construction and an insight into contemporary safety hazards.

The text below is an extract from the Sun Herald article.

At Montessori East pre-school and school in Waverley, the principal, Bill Conway, said he was worried about artificial turf and it was being removed. Montessori’s new playspace was designed by Tessa Rose and constructed by Jaime Miller Landscapes, photos can be viewed here later this week. 

An oncologist with the Yale Cancer Centre in Connecticut, Barry Boyd, who is also a consultant to the Environment and Human Health Inc, has said: ”While fear of raising concerns may be an understandable motive for limiting public information about risk, the long-recognised goal of limiting childhood exposures to environmental hazards must take precedence.”

Artificial turf has gained popularity in Australia in the past decade as a way of extending playing hours???? and cutting maintenance time and costs. Schools, councils and sport groups have opted to use it to replace grass.

One professional turf adviser, Martin Sheppard, who consults councils and other groups on the use of artificial turf, dismisses concerns about safety, saying it poses fewer environmental dangers than the street. Mr Sheppard, who has been advising on artificial turf for 30 years, says the turf has been used since 1965 around the world. If there are serious health risks, he argues, they would have been identified. Correct. If anyone was looking for them.

Yet across the US, schools have been digging up the turf and reinstating grass, concerned about toxic chemicals and heavy metals, including lead, which was used in some of earlier generations of turf.

Gavin Edwards, of the school of chemistry at the University of NSW, said lead no longer appeared to be used in new versions of the turf. Dr Edwards said concerns about emissions of toxic components could be minimised by pre-treating some of the components, including the crumb rubber from car tyres. Shouldn’t that be done already. Is it OK to sell a product that you know may pose a potential health hazard, until your caught, then take remedial action? He agreed there should be some standards to regulate what materials can be used in the turf.

”Over the past 50 years technological advances have seen artificial turf mature from a product with many problems, to one that is becoming used more widely,” Dr Edwards wrote in a report in 2010 commissioned by Turf Australia. ”Nonetheless, even with the latest ‘third-generation’ surfaces, problems still exist and questions remain unanswered.” Obviously the answer is YES.

Dr Edwards said an overlooked issue was the heating of the turf to temperatures that could cause injury. He quoted a study by Brigham Young University in Utah that showed it reaching temperatures much higher than grass and in some cases almost three times the air temperature, recording 93.3 degrees.

The same study said one coach developed blisters on his feet, despite wearing tennis shoes, as a result of the extreme temperatures and that the New York State Department of Health had issued warnings.’

Tess Michaels