Parks & Recreation Updates

Posted on: March 8, 2018

Rubber Mulch in DPR Playgrounds Update

Durham Parks and Recreation (DPR) considers the safety of every child who visits our playgrounds to be our utmost priority. That’s why all of our 57 playgrounds are regularly inspected, and have consistently met or exceeded industry standard health and safety codes.

Last year, the use of rubber mulch made from recycled tires was brought to our attention as a source of safety and health concerns for some residents. Playground specialists and park planners across the country specify and install this material on playgrounds to enhance the safety of users. 

In response to general public concern like those we’ve heard in Durham and a desire for a more comprehensive analysis, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a new study of rubber safety surfacing in 2016. While that study was expected to be completed in 2017, we are still awaiting the study findings. It should be noted that other studies to date have shown that rubber safety surfaces do not pose elevated health risks; however, out of an abundance of caution, DPR wanted to be responsive to Durham residents’ concerns that specifically cited studies showing that mulch contained high levels of cadmium and lead. 

Since these are testable materials that are measurable by EPA standards, DPR collected and sent a sample of the rubber safety surfacing at East Durham Park to Microbac Labs, an independent testing facility located in Fayetteville, NC. We are pleased to announce that the analysis showed that there was no detectable lead, and the test for cadmium came back showing levels well below the EPA standards for cadmium limits in the environment (the levels in the rubber mulch sample were comparable to garden soil).

Several types of rubber safety surfacing are used in DPR playgrounds. East Durham Park has both loose recycled rubber mulch and bonded rubber mulch. Bonded rubber mulch is also used at Cook Road Park and W.D. Hill Recreation Center. Westover Park has artificial turf surfacing. Poured-in-place rubber surfacing is used at Duke Park (lower playground), Forest Hills Park, Morreene Road Park, Durham Central Park, Orchard Park, Rock Quarry Park, and Whippoorwill Park. DPR chooses surfacing based on several factors including accessibility, impact attenuation, height and fall zones of the playground equipment, cost, and ease of maintenance.

Again, DPR is continuing to wait on the EPA study findings, and will take appropriate action based on the findings. At this time, we believe our ongoing use of rubber safety surfacing in Durham parks is consistent with our safety philosophy and is supported by all the studies that have been conducted to date.

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