Understanding The Safety Of Surface America Surfacing.

July 8, 2009

Not all rubber surfaces are the same.

When evaluating the safety of a playground there are a number of critical components to consider including equipment, critical fall heights and the type of surface being installed. Recently the focus has turned to the latter as media reports circulate questioning the safety of loose fill crumb rubber as a responsible choice for playground surfaces.

While the articles are taking issue with the use of crumb rubber as a loose fill surface, used under and around play equipment, the overall content and the lack of information has caused confusion, concern and perpetrated the spread of misinformation. When examining the issue, it’s necessary to consider the facts and the most recent scientific studies by leading government organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health and others, to truly evaluate the safety of a play surface.

Loose Versus Poured

By definition, loose fill is just that – loose material used in and around play equipment on a playground. Common materials used for loose fill include wood chips, sand, pea gravel, and recycled, shredded rubber. As children run and play, the loose fill material shifts, risking a compromise of the safety thickness requirement at critical impact areas like swings, slides and climbers.

Recycled rubber is also used in poured-in-place surfaces. But, instead of being loose, the rubber is poured into place and encapsulated with a urethane binder. The rubber is then completely covered by a half-inch layer of another material. This means, children never come in direct contact with this layer of rubber. In summary, Surface America’s Poured-in-Place surface is a two-layer system. The basemat consists of 100% post-consumer recycled SBR (Styrene Butadiene Rubber) encapsulated by urethane and then covered by a wear-resistant layer of virgin EPDM rubber and urethane.

What the Scientists Say

Surface America builds safety into every playground and only uses the highest quality rubber and urethane to build athletic and play surfaces. While we have long believed our product to be safe, recent research confirms there is no scientific evidence to support claims or concerns of danger as reported by the media. The facts are clear.

May 2009 – New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Department of Health (DOH) released a new study validating the safety of crumb rubber. The findings, available at http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/46856.html concluded that crumb rubber material poses no significant environmental threat to air or water quality and poses no significant health concerns.

May 2008 – New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released finding of its health and safety risk of synthetic turf fields using crumb rubber infill. Among the findings – no increased risk for human health effects as a result of ingestion, dermal or inhalation exposure to crumb rubber.

June 2007 – New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection released a white paper finding no obvious toxicological concern raised that crumb rubber used for outdoor playgrounds and playing fields would cause adverse health effects (pdf).

Ensuring long-term satisfaction

While safety is certainly the top concern for every playground project, there are other factors, which greatly impact success and long-term satisfaction. Once you decide on installing a pour-in-place surface for your playground it’s important to ask the right questions to ensure you hire a company with expertise, experience and a commitment to using only quality materials. Before you start a poured-in-place surfacing project, ask about the following:

  1. The type and quality of material components (rubber and urethane) being used. Consistency in the rubber from post-consumer tires, called SBR, is critical. The EPDM quality used in the top surface is even more important. A low dust content and high production quality lead to consistency in the surface construction. It reduces the amount of urethane absorbed by the dust and maximizes the amount of urethane left to bond granules and strands together. The result is a stronger surface.
  2. Is the top surface application rate ample for long-term durability? The application rate is best understood in pounds per square foot than in thickness, because density is critical to the structural integrity of the surface. For example: In poured-in-place systems, Surface America uses an industry-leading 2.44 lbs of material (rubber and urethane) per square foot in its top surface. More material in the top layer means greater tensile strength (side-to-side pulling) and superior taber abrasion (top down wear).
  3. Quality of the basemat. The basemat provides the shock absorbency in the system. The objective is to have a medium density layer with a medium amount of urethane in the mix. Too much urethane makes the system hard and unforgiving. Not enough urethane can cause a premature breakdown of the basemat. The right balance is key.
  4. Is the installation crew committed to meeting the specification and following sound application guidelines? Is the crew highly trained in the unique poured-in-place process? Does the installation crew have the craftsmanship required for consistently high-quality installations?

Founded in 1993, Surface America is known as North America’s leading playground and recreational surfacing company – installing more than fifteen million square feet of poured-in-place surfacing on thousands of playground and recreation areas from coast-to-coast. In addition, Surface America provides surfacing systems for trails & pathways, gymnasiums, fitness facilities and athletic fields marketed under the A-Turf (a sister company) brand.