Crumb rubber. It's been touted as the latest and greatest mulch for playgrounds because it's spongy texture helps to reduce injuries from playground accidents. And because it's made from recycled tires, it's also considered super green. It's even the mulch of choice used by President and Mrs. Obama to protect Sasha and Mali on their new White House playground. But this wonder mulch may not be as wonderful as they thought.

A recently leaked memo from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that agency scientists have begun to question whether there's stuff in the crumb rubber that could be toxic to kids. "What's known is very very little. They list, I think it's 30 toxic chemicals in one of the memos. And so far work has only been done on two of them," said Jeff Ruch, head of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, in an interview with The Environment Report. An EPA spokesman says the agency is doing a preliminary study of four playgrounds to test for toxins such as lead and volatile organic compounds. The results aren't in yet.

The Rubber Manufacturers Association says there are more than 100 studies showing scrap tires are safe in playgrounds and that environmental groups are over hyping the concerns. But the whole mess bears a striking resemblance to the arsenic-treated wood that was used in the past to build playground equipment. Sure, arsenic prevented decay and made the playground structures last for years. But didn't anyone stop to think ..."hey, this is ARSENIC we are putting on playground equipment?" For two decades, kids across the country played on contaminated wood before someone finally saw the folly in this choice. Will it take another two decades before we fully understand the health effects that could occur when kids play on recycled tires?

Photo: Rubber Mulch

Is your playground toxic?
Leaked EPA memo indicates that many playgrounds may not be as safe as you think.