Rubber wood chips - are they truly non-toxic?
June 18, 2014 8:27 AM   Subscribe

My daughter's school uses rubber wood chips on the playground. She comes home with her clothes smeared with black "soot" from those rubber wood chips. Is this stuff possibly harming the health of the children who are playing in it?

Since rubber wood chips are designed for use on playgrounds, they presumably meet certain US government, state, and/or industry safety standards (ASTM or whatever). Since all this residue that gets on her clothes, I presume it also gets onto her skin and possibly into her eyes and mouth. Safety standards aside, how toxic might this stuff actually be?
posted by Dansaman to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Wikipedia has a small section with references on rubber-mulch safety.
posted by Think_Long at 8:41 AM on June 18, 2014

It's possible that the rubber mulch is non-toxic, but that the black soot could be from burning nearby or rain pollution or any number of other particles in the air and carried onto shoes.
posted by royalsong at 8:41 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's the manufacturer safety data sheet for one brand of rubber mulch: MSDS RubberMulch Loose.
posted by mskyle at 8:43 AM on June 18, 2014

Here's a study on the safety of those chips. But it was commissioned by the Rubber Manufacturer's Association, so there's that. The paper doesn't mention the sooty residue on the rubber chips at all.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:45 AM on June 18, 2014

I would absolutely be concerned about the mulch if it's made from recycled tires. When the The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station analyzed a sample of ground up rubber tires, they found a myriad of toxic chemicals.
posted by Ostara at 9:11 AM on June 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's going to take me a while to track down the paper trail, but when the City of Boston started installing this ground-tire mulch in its playgrounds about 5 years ago enough anti-rubber evidence was brought to them by parents that the city reversed the decision and dug out/replaced all the rubber mulch they had installed to that point.
posted by range at 9:17 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you. Are there labs that can test samples of the material, and if so how much roughly might that cost?
posted by Dansaman at 9:59 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you contact the school distract and find out exactly what it is and specifically who it was purchased from?

Re testing -- I would call the local extension office. They won't do it - they test soil - but they probably have contacts and/or an understanding of who might be able to do the analysis for you.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:53 PM on June 18, 2014

When Consumer Reports tested landscape mulch, they found low levels of lead. You could easily do the lead testing yourself with a Lead test kit.

You could also test flammability on your own, too. Not sure about testing for other chemicals.

I found an article about rubber mulch written by Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D. -- maybe you could contact her directly and see what she says? Her contact info is on this page.

Most of the pro-rubber-mulch studies seem to be connected to the tire companies or landscape companies producing the mulch, so I doubt their accuracy.
posted by Ostara at 2:02 PM on June 18, 2014

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