Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Just say no to recycled tires on playgrounds!


A video from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
about high lead levels in some rubber materials used on playgrounds.

A local group of concerned parents is asking the La Crosse School District and La Crosse Park and Recreation to stop using recycled tires on childrens play areas, including rubber "chips" and poured in place mats. The reasons are many and well-documented (see below). 

[UPDATE TIME] Plan to attend a PUBLIC INPUT SESSION on the reconstruction of Kid's Coulee Playground in Myrick Park on Tuesday, February 22 from 4 to 5 to 6 p.m. The session will be both in-person at the Southside Neighborhood Center, 1300 6th St. S, and online via Lifesize ( OR by phone (listen only, no option to speak if you join by phone): dial 877-422-8614, then enter meeting number 10392278

In addition, please consider contacting your city council representative and the Parks, Rec & Forestry Department about this.

Here are the details:

After learning more about the health risks and environmental concerns associated with rubber chips, residents in the city of La Crosse have been advocating to replace rubber chip mulch with wood chips in all parks and playgrounds. Additionally, we ask that it be put into long-range planning that crumb rubber will not be used during new installations of playgrounds, fields or frequently-used spaces. 


Nearby, Minneapolis Public Schools and the Duluth School District have recently opted to replace their rubber tire chip playground fill with wood chips after input from parents, the community and medical professionals. In our nation and around the world there have been many other school districts, cities and even countries who have banned the use of rubber chips in playgrounds. For instance, New York City and Los Angeles Unified School District have banned the installation of fields with crumb rubber filling for over a decade. European countries Sweden and Norway have complete bans on crumb rubber. In Concord, Massachusetts, voters approved a suspension on the use of artificial turf.

In this dialogue, rubber tire mulch, crumb rubber, and rubber chips all refer to the infill that comes from milling up rubber tires into smaller pieces. From 2005 to 2015, ground up tire manufactured for playground use rose from 19,000 to 225,000 tons.[1] Tires are often restricted from landfills to reduce mosquito breeding habitats and the potential for tire fires [2-5] and thus were recommended as playground fill,

Health Concerns

As a recycled product, rubber mulch is not subject to official safety standards. When looking at advertising claims or reports, it is important to understand the difference between evidence of harm and evidence of safety. Companies that sell rubber chips often claim that there is “no evidence that children are harmed” or “no evidence that they cause cancer.” That is often confused with meaning that the products are safe or are proven to not cause harm. Neither is true.

After looking at the available research, we found that the City of La Crosse may be unknowingly exposing children on a daily basis to chemicals and materials that are known to cause cancer; increase respiratory and skin issues; lower academic achievement; cause hormonal disruptions and cause harm to internal organs as laid out in the research below.

Chemicals of concern

In 2018, researchers at Yale University tested 15 samples of rubber chips and found that they contained 92 different chemicals, only half of them had been tested for human health effects.[6] A University of Massachusetts Lowell report states “Some materials used in playground surfacing contain toxic chemicals, creating potential hazards for manufacturers, installers, playground users, and the environment”.[7]

The chemicals that have been tested regarding human health that are of biggest concern include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), metals and phthalates. Rubber chips also release volatile organic compounds (VOCs).


While interacting in rubber chips, students can be exposed to and affected by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) through skin contact, inhalation and hand-to-mouth activity.[8] Many of these PAHs (e.g. benzo(a)anthracene, benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(b)fluoranthene, benzo(k)fluoranthene, indeno(1,2,3-c,d)pyrene, dibenz(a,h)anthracene), and chrysene) have been found in waste tire rubber, in the air around the rubber, or in leachate from the rubber according to an EPA literature review. Levels of PAHs in rubber chips levels test above health-based soil standards.[9]

Several PAHs have been identified as known or suspected human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and many other research studies.[10-13] Respiratory irritation and skin irritation are other hazards associated with exposure.[13-15] This can especially affect children with compromised immune systems - especially during a pandemic - and those with skin sensitivities.


Metals found in recycled tires, such as lead, pose concerns as well. A study of 46 samples of surfaces for trace metals in synthetic playground surfaces, showed that 66% exceeded relevant standards for trace metals.[16] In a study where they tested playgrounds for lead, they found that rubber tire mulch contained two to three times more lead than wood chip mulch.[1]

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even low levels of lead in children have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.[16]


Phthalates are a family of chemicals that are typically used to soften materials, making them more malleable. In a study looking at 21 samples of rubber tire mulch, phthalates were found in all samples.[10] In March 2021, the Natural Resources Defense Council said that “Researchers have found that even low levels of exposure to certain phthalates can lead to hormonal disruption and reproductive harm, as well as lasting damage in children’s brain development. U.S. government data show that for many phthalates, exposure is significantly higher in children between the ages of 6 and 11, as well as in people of color.”

Due to this, federal courts recently ruled to maintain a ban that keeps phthalates out of children’s toys and products.[18] However, that does not yet apply to tire mulch on playgrounds.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Several VOCs known or suspected of carcinogens, such as benzene and hexane, have been measured in recycled tire materials.[19] VOCs are of particular concern due to their high volatility and “off-gassing” properties.[20] The off-gassing produced by these chemicals is a part of the burnt rubber smell near playgrounds, especially during the hot summer months. Acute VOC exposure can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, and nausea; longer-term exposure can cause damage to internal organs.[21]

Environmental Concerns

Burns and Heat Islands

Rubber chips also have been shown to generate heat that can cause burns. This summer when the air temperature was 95°F in La Crosse, the surface temperature of the rubber chips was measured at 147°F. These recordings show that these surfaces can cause a heat island effect and contribute to climate change. Natural surfaces around the rubber chips were recorded at having temperatures very close to the current air temperature. Other reports show similar findings and some even found readings up to 194°F on rubber playground surfaces. [7, 22] The Consumer Product Safety Commission is recommending that people limit time spent in these spaces on warm days. [23]

Parents and dermatologists have expressed concern when there is limited shade on playgrounds due to the increased risk of skin cancer and overheating.[24] This is especially a concern at our year-round schools at recess time with rising temperatures. Natural play areas frequently incorporate trees that allow for broader shade cover.

Pollutes Groundwater

Chemicals from rubber chips like PAHs have been shown to move into water when rainwater runs over or through rubber chips. PHAs do not dissolve easily in water, but instead stick to solid particles and settle to the bottoms of lakes or rivers and contaminate underground water.[13,25] Additionally, PAH contents of plants and animals may be much higher than PAH contents of soil or water in which they live due to bioaccumulation causing negative health effects.[7,13]

Comments on an alternative option

Pour in Place Playground Surfacing

Pour in place (PIP) filling is typically made by melting rubber chips in place on a playground. Although there is less surface area with PIP, some studies are showing that PIP may have similar effects on human health. PIP is made from the same materials as rubber chips. One study states that cancer risk is approximately 10 times higher in poured rubber surface playgrounds than in uncovered soil playgrounds. [26]

PIP is often touted for being more inclusive; however, to be inclusive, the playground itself that the PIP leads to has to be inclusive. Otherwise, someone in a wheelchair can only get a few feet closer to a playground they cannot play on anyway.

Disposal is Expensive

This synthetic material does not biodegrade and cannot be recycled or reused due to the bonding agents that are added. Therefore, landfills typically charge steep fees to accept these large mats of PIP. Some landfills do not accept them at all which then adds a transportation fee to the nearest space.

Not maintenance-free

When playground companies are looking to sell a PIP option, many state that PIP requires less maintenance. However, many are finding that they do breakdown faster than advertised which causes additional maintenance. Manuals for PIP often cite that frequent sterilizing and vacuuming should be done. A group focused on people with disabilities, reported that they found PIP remained accessible for the first 12 months of installation, but then deficiencies were noted within the first year for impact attenuation in heavy use areas. Within 2-3 years, deficiencies with slopes, level and openings appeared and there was cracking and flaking of granular surface.[28] In the city of La Crosse, we have found that the new Trane park frequently closes when it is icy as there is not a great way to clear ice from rubber matting. In other communities, rubber covered areas close during hot stretches when there is a potential for burns and high VOC counts.

Healthier Playground Surfaces

The EPA suggests sand and wood mulch as alternatives to rubber materials in playgrounds due to potentially lower chemical exposures and still have injury prevention properties such as shock absorbance for falls.[29]

In addition, research is finding that there are a lot of benefits to children playing in more natural settings as opposed to synthetic and manufactured playgrounds. Researchers studying children at play found that children playing on playgrounds that incorporate natural elements like plants or logs show more activity than those playing on traditional playgrounds with metal and brightly colored equipment.” [30, 31]


Given the potential risks posed to children from the chemical and physical hazards associated with rubber playground materials, please follow the path of other cities, states and countries by replacing the refuse tire chips at our parks and playgrounds with wood chips, and furthermore create a policy preventing future use.

Today children are exposed to more environmental toxins than ever before. It is our responsibility as parents and community members to remove the hazards that we have knowledge about and have control over. We hope the information laid out above will help the City of La Crosse foster safe and healthy outdoor play time for all children.


  1. Almansour, K. S., Arisco, N. J., Woo, M. K., Young, A. S., Adamkiewicz, G., and Hart, J. E. Playground lead levels in rubber, soil, sand, and mulch surfaces in Boston. PloS one. 2019; 14(4), e0216156.

  2. Caldwell J. Tire-Derived Product (TDP) Descriptions and Case Studies Playground Surfaces. 2016.

  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Solid Waste. Markets for Scrap Tires. 1991. EPA/530-SW-90-074A.

  4. Bleyer A. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Waste Prevention. Best Management Practices for Automotive Recyclers. Synthetic Turf Fields, Crumb Rubber, and Alleged Cancer Risk. Sports Medicine. 2017.

  5. Claudio L. Synthetic Turf: Health Debate Takes Root. Environ Health Perspect. 2008. 116(3):A116–22.

  6. Benoit, G. and Demars, S. Evaluation of Organic and Inorganic Compounds Extractable by Multiple Methods from Commercially Available Crumb Rubber Mulch. Water Air Soil Pollution. 2018; 229, 64.

  7. Toxic Use Reduction Institute - UMass Lowell, Playground Surfacing: Choosing Safer Materials for Children's Health and the Environment. December 2018.

  8. Tarafdar, A., Oh, MJ., Nguyen-Phuong, Q. et al. Profiling and potential cancer risk assessment on children exposed to PAHs in playground dust/soil: a comparative study on poured rubber surfaced and classical soil playgrounds in Seoul. Environ Geochem Health. 2020; 42, 1691–1704.

  9. Zhang, J., Han, I.-K., Zhang, L., Crain, W. Hazardous chemicals in synthetic turf materials and their bioaccessibility in digestive fluids. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2008; 18, 600–607.

  10. Llompart, M., Sanchez-Prado, L., Pablo Lamas J., Garcia-Jares, C., Roca, E., and Dagnac, T. Hazardous organic chemicals in rubber recycled tire playgrounds and pavers, Chemosphere. 2013; 90(2), 423-431.

  11. Reuben, S. Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk What We Can Do Now. Annual Report President’s Cancer Panel. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2010.

  12. Abdel-Shafy, H.I., and Mansour, M.S.M. A review on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Egyptian Journal of Petroleum, 2016; 25(1).

  13. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)-Fact Sheet. November 2013.

  14. Kim, K., Jahan, S.A., Kabir, E., and Brown, R.J.C. A review of airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and their human health effects, Environ Int, 2013, 60, 71-80.

  15. IPCS (International Programme On Chemical Safety). Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, selected non-heterocyclic; 2010. ehc202.htm

  1. Negev, M., Barnett-Itzhaki, Z., Berman, T. et al. Hazardous chemicals in outdoor and indoor surfaces: artificial turf and laminate flooring. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2021.

  2. CDC Phthalates Factsheet.

  3. Becker, M., Edwards, S., and Massey, R.I., Toxic Chemicals in Toys and Children’s Products: Limitations of Current Responses and Recommendations for Government and Industry, Environmental Science & Technology. 2010, 44 (21), 7986-7991.

  4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Synthetic Turf Field Recycled Tire Crumb Rubber Research Under the Federal Research Action Plan. July 2019.

  5. Landrigan, Philip J., et al. “Volatile Organic Compounds.” Textbook of Children's Environmental Health, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014, pp. 314–323.

  6. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Volatile Organic Compounds' Impact on Indoor Air Quality. Accessed January 2022.

  7. Backer, J. Playground surfaces can reach 90 degrees celsius in summer (194° F), Sydney Morning Herald. November 11, 2018.

  8. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Federal Research Action Plan: Crumb Rubber. Accessed January 2022.

  9. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Public Playground Safety Handbook. Accessed January 2022.

  10. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Federal Research Action Plan on Recycled Tire Crumb Used on Playing Fields and Playgrounds, Status Report. 2016. Retrieved from

  11. Tarafdar, A., Oh, MJ., Nguyen-Phuong, Q. et al. Profiling and potential cancer risk assessment on children exposed to PAHs in playground dust/soil: a comparative study on poured rubber surfaced and classical soil playgrounds in Seoul. Environ Geochem Health. 2020; 42, 1691–1704.

  12. Toxics Use Reduction Institute. 2017. Sports turf alternatives assessment: preliminary results, infill made from recycled tires. Retrieved from

  13. Montgomery County Commission on People With Disabilities. Inclusive Play and Surfacing. 2018.

  14. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Public playground safety handbook. Government Printing Office; 2015.

  15. University of Tennessee at Knoxville. "Natural playgrounds more beneficial to children, inspire more play, study finds." ScienceDaily. 2012.

  16. Dankiw, K.A., Tsiros, M.D., Baldock, K.L., and Kumar, S. The impacts of unstructured nature play on health in early childhood development: A systematic review. PLOS ONE, 2020; 15 (2): e0229006 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0229006


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