Rubber Chips Playgrounds A Health Hazard to Children and the Environment?

Recently, we sampled the soils in a child care center’s playground area, much of whose surface was covered with rubber chips. What we found was exceedance of New Jersey’s Residential and Non-residential Site Remediation Standards (RSRS/NSRS) and Default Impact to Ground Water Screening Levels (DIGWSL). Specifically, PCB’s below the chips, exceeded RSRS and DIGWSL by as much as a factor of 465. The semi-volatile organic compound Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, slightly exceeded RSRS. Lead and Mercury levels detected were above DIGWSL. Concentrations beyond the chip area were also high but significantly less than in the chip area, which we attribute to the dispersion of the chips to the adjacent/surrounding areas but the children.

In an attempt to verify our hypothesis that the rubber chips were the source of the contamination, we sampled and analyzed the rubber chips themselves. Results show the chips contained all but the PCB’s and also a multitude of other semi-volatile organic compounds and metals. We hypothesize that perhaps the PCB’s were not within the matrix of the rubber chips but were a coating that has since washed from the chips, i.e. over time, but have accumulated in the soil.

We seriously question the logic of using the rubber chips as a protective substrate in the playgrounds based on multiple reasons. Most important is that the children are in contact with the chips if they fall, allowing potential absorption of these chemicals through the skin. Secondly, there is a possibility of ingestion if a child decides to eat a chip or accidentally swallows one. The last reason is that apparently there is leaching and washing of the contaminants into the underlying soil and potential contamination of the groundwater.

We will be conducting additional research into the contamination of the playground area including the PCB’s source, and will subsequently conduct remediation of this playground.

In response to our recommendation, the child care center is prohibiting the access to and use of the playground area. Furthermore, they are planning to provide a temporary facility until a remediation investigation and ultimately remediation can be conducted.

We highly recommend that all playgrounds area covered with rubber chips be investigated in order to protect the children, pets and other playground users and safeguard groundwater quality.

David L. Poling, Licensed Site Remediation Professional