Playgrounds evoke images of happy, laughing children getting exercise and having fun while breathing in fresh air, right? Theoretically, yes.
But creating a playground can present a challenge, especially when scrutinizing the equipment from every angle: safety, age appropriateness and the contents of the building materials. Some potential dangers include wood treated with arsenic, lead in paint and phthalates in plastic.
Follow these tips for choosing equipment and your playground will be filled with laughter and free of worry:
Don’t reuse and recycle. As strange as that may sound, this is one time when recycling may not be a good idea. A hand-me-down playset might sound tempting, but unless you know the year the equipment was built and you can research the manufacturer, err on the side of caution. This advice also goes for picnic tables and wood used for raised gardens and decks.
Wooden playsets made prior to 2004 may have been pressure treated with chemicals called chromated copper arsenate (CCA), which contained arsenic. Children can ingest this harmful toxin by putting their hands in their mouths or eating without washing their hands during playground time.
The Environmental Protection Agency no longer allows companies to produce CCA-treated wood for residential use (there aren’t clear guidelines for non-residential), but many structures built in 2003 and before still stand in backyards and playgrounds.
CCA use was widespread until 2004, so never assume a playground is safe if it is made from wood. Instead, ask your school to test their equipment (or test it yourself). Test kits are available from the Environmental Working Group.
Choose new installations carefully. Look for sets made with woods that resist rot naturally, such as cedar, or ones made with alternative materials, such as recycled plastic. Many manufacturers now use these safer materials. MyHealthySchool.com found these manufacturers, all of which offer environmentally friendly commercial and residential playground equipment:
Big Toys—commercial playground equipment made from reclaimed steel and recycled plastic materials, as well as conditioned wood
Earthscapes Structures—safe playground equipment with a focus on recycling; the company demonstrates corporate and environmental responsibility through reducing waste and promoting the use of sustainable consumer products in the production
Progressive Design Playgrounds—state-of-the-art and environmentally friendly commercial children's playground equipment and recreation site furnishings; shows a strong commitment to the preservation of the earth's natural resources by using 100% recycled plastic that’s safer and more durable than conventional wood and metal equipment
Also, according to the Environmental Working Group, these manufacturers offer safer alternatives:
|BCI Burke||Repro Series 1000: 95% recycled plastic and metal||920.921.9220|
|Cedarworks Play Sets||Chemical-free, rot-resistant white cedar||800.462.3327|
|Childlife, Inc.||Chemical-free yellow cedar and maple||800.467.9464|
|Leathers and Associates||Recycled plastic and non-arsenic treated wood (ACQ and Wolmanized)||607.277.1650|
|PlayMart Playgrounds||Recycled plastic||800.437.5297|
|PlayNation PlaySystems||ACQ-treated wood or untreated redwood||800.445.PLAY|
|Recreation Creations||Recycled plastics and steel||800.766.9458|
Remember basic safety. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a website which lists basic precautions for playgrounds and playsets.
Beware of greenwashing. Because green is the latest buzzword, many manufacturers claim to have green products. However, some plastic products may contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is often made with phthalate plasticizers—potential carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Do your research on companies and ask for references and backup information.
Consider alternatives to typical playsets. Fitness stations positioned throughout the grounds can be a fun, less expensive alternative to large playset equipment.