Kids love rubber mulch for all the wrong reasons

PHOTO: Ground Smart Rubber Mulch

PHOTO: Ground Smart Rubber Mulch

Playground equipment used to be hellish industrial machinery. Kids would bust their arms just looking at the hand pump merry-go-round. The ground was just that: ground. Heck, you were lucky if it was dirt. It might have been pavement.

In a quest to make things safer, many new playgrounds use rubber mulch, bouncy chunks reclaimed from old tires and other sources. That way a kid can fall from the foam-encased monkey bars with near impunity.

On Wednesday, the Duluth News Tribune reported on complaints by some Duluth school district parents that there isn’t enough research on the health effects of this rubber mulch. The mulch is found at several school playgrounds.

From the DNT story by Jana Hollingsworth:

The Minnesota Department of Health doesn’t feel there is enough information yet to draw conclusions on whether [rubber mulch] exposure is a health concern, “but we recognize the question is out there,” said Jim Kelly, manager of the environmental surveillance and assessment section for the department.

“Typically we look at things over long exposure periods,” he said, including the intensity of contact. “We look at that over a lifetime; not a short period of exposure.”

Board member Nora Sandstad said concerns come from students putting the rubber mulch in their mouths, burying each other in it and other “extreme uses” — claims corroborated by Lester Park elementary school principal Sue Lehna.

“They chew it like gum. They pile it, bury in it … do more creative play,” Lehna said, despite being told not to.

Kelly said those things increase the likelihood of adverse effects, “but it’s a matter of how much over a certain period of time.”

Before the rubber, they used wood. But the wood suffered from mildew and would compost over time.

It’s the old conundrum. Make the world safer and people become more attracted to danger. When you’re dangling ten feet over certain doom you have less time to chew on things you find on the ground.

They’re looking into the mulch. What happens if you chew on tires during your formative years? Who knows? We’re working without a net here, people. The future is now.


  1. John Ramos says

    It was a Goodyear on the playground. The kids are all tired out.

  2. There have been many news stories about a possible link between rubber turf and cancer, especially in soccer goalies who are constantly in contact with the turf. Do a web search and you will find many instances where people are investigating this link.

    • Nick Lansing says

      Web searches do find instances of people investigating the link. But searches also find many quality studies that don’t link rubber turf to cancer.

      I’m no fan of the stuff. Both my sons played on crumb fields and the stuff gets everywhere.

      My problem with the goalie theory is we should see thousands more American football players with cancer. Most football players are on the ground many times during practices and games. Linemen and backs are down almost every play. Soccer goalies are only down a few times during games and a little more during practices.

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