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The safety of our residents on Durham playgrounds is a top priority for Durham Parks and Recreation (DPR.) All of our playgrounds include a safety surfacing intended to reduce risks to patrons when using playground equipment. One such safety surface is rubber mulch (made from recycled tires). Several types of rubber safety surfacing are used in DPR playgrounds. East Durham Park has both loose recycled rubber mulch and bonded rubber mulch. Many playgrounds throughout the country, including the Museum of Life and Science, use loose recycled 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, 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. Engineered wood fiber is used especially in floodplain areas so it does not introduce inorganic material to the waterways. It is inexpensive, but compacts and degrades and must be frequently replaced. Rubber mulch has initial high costs but needs less frequent replacement.
While playground specialists and park planners specify and install this material in playgrounds to enhance safety for our users, DPR has recently heard from some residents that they are concerned the materials may raise health concerns due to chemical compounds present in the rubber.
The most extensive studies to date on the use of rubber safety surface for recreational purposes were conducted by the State of Connecticut. Their analysis found that the use of rubber safety surface does not result in elevated health risks for users. Rubber, like many synthetic materials, does include compounds that are unsafe at high concentrations, but that at lower concentrations do not pose a risk to human health. The Connecticut study found these concentrations to be below any level of concern, especially for outdoor recreation facilities.
In response to public concern and desire for a more comprehensive analysis, the EPA launched a new study of rubber safety surfacing in 2016. We expect that study to be completed in 2017, and we will take appropriate action based on the findings. However, 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.