Health Concerns About ‘Rubber Mulch’ on Duluth Playgrounds

Effort to Ensure Children's Safety, Raise Awareness, Test Toxicity of 'Crumb Tire'

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For the time being, seven–year–old Jack Kirsling is keeping his cartwheels off of Duluth playgrounds.

“Every parent knows that when their kids play in these playgrounds with this material, there’s a black dust that comes off on them,” explained his father Cory Kirsling.

The decision after experiencing a year of symptoms his father believes is a result of the rubber mulch.

“He would start complaining of headaches or scratchy throat or an upset stomach,” Kirsling explained. “It’d be on his face, we’d blow his nose and it would be kind of gray.”

In 2007, the Duluth School District replaced woodchips and sand on their playgrounds with the shredded rubber, also known as ‘crumb rubber,’ at eight of the nine public elementary schools.

“The good news is, rubber’s been around a long, long time and used many, many ways,” said Kerry Leider, Property & Risk Manager of Duluth Public Schools.

The district believes these rubber chips minimize the risk of injury for children in the event of a fall.

“Head injury is a very real risk that we’re trying to manage,” Leider said

Plus, they say it’s environmentally friendly.

“The recycling of rubber in this way is a very good use, good application,” added Leider.

The mulch is made up of shredded tires.

“And the problem with that is, a tire is not just a tire, not all tires are the same, they all have different recipes, every manufacturer has a different recipe,” Kirsling described.

For Kirsling, it’s the unknown that’s most concerning.

“We really want to know what that dust is, what they’re breathing in,” he expressed. “The lack of knowledge or study is very…it’s scary.”

The EPA did a study in 2009 that found the rubber to be safe.

But in 2013, a new study found 30 different chemicals in the rubber, including lead, mercury, latex and arsenic.

“That right there, in a nutshell, says enough for me,” Kirsling told FOX 21.

The school district says until research proves it’s unsafe, they will stick with the rubber mulch.

“We feel that rubber is a very good material, and we’re continuing to look and rely heavily on the guidance from the Consumer Product Safety Commission,” Leider said.

In the meantime, parents will continue searching for answers.

“Is it off–gassing? What is that dust that’s all over these kids? Because, I mean, if it’s on their face, you can’t tell me that they’re not breathing it in, there’s no way,” Kirsling said.

“If it needs to go, it needs to go,” said Duluth parent Richard Hansen.

They’ll do everything they can to ensure their children are playing safe.

“My son means the most to me, so…that says it all,” Kirsling said.

Parents will be meeting with the PTA and school board members this week, building a report to present to the school district in the coming weeks.

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