Supplement Feature - September 2012
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Protect & Serve

Playground Safety Starts With the Surface

By Wynn St. Clair

The findings mirrored a 2008 staff report from The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on various synthetic athletic fields. The evaluation concluded that young children are not at risk from exposure to lead in these fields.

The report showed that newer fields had no lead or generally had the lowest lead levels. Although small amounts of lead were detected on the surface of some older fields, none of these tested fields released amounts of lead that would be harmful to children.

"We examined samples to determine the presence of lead and to test for hand-to-mouth exposure by simulating repeated skin contact," said Dr. Joel Recht, director of the CPSC's chemistry division. "The synthetic turf either had no detectable lead or would not expose hands to levels of lead which would present a risk to children."

Lead is present in the pigments of some synthetic turf products to give the turf its various colors, according the CPSC's finding. The report also found that some conditions such as age, weathering, exposure to sunlight, and wear and tear might change the amount of lead that could be released from the turf.

"As turf is used during athletics or play and exposed over time to sunlight, heat and other weather conditions, the surface of the turf may start to become worn and small particles of the lead-containing synthetic grass fibers might be released," according to the CPSC report. "The staff considered in the evaluation that particles on a child's hand transferred to his/her mouth would be the most likely route of exposure and determined young children would not be at risk."

Most concerns can be easily addressed by proactive recreation managers, experts said. Playground supervisors should be vigilant about maintaining their surfaces and replacing them as they become worn. Children also should be encouraged to wash their hands after using the playgrounds, especially before they eat.

If these guidelines are followed, no one—including recreation managers and parents—should lose any sleep over their synthetic surface.

"Absolutely not," Padilla said. "The most recent synthetic surfaces are safe, as study after study shows. I don't worry about the playgrounds that have any of these safety surfaces. I worry about those that don't."