Is Your School Playground a Toxic Minefield?

Is Your School Playground a Toxic Minefield?

January 8, 2023

By Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director

Playgrounds should be childhood’s ultimate refuge, but the modern materials and equipment they contain can hide hazards that are nothing to play around with. Here are five things to look for when buying or inspecting your kid’s playground equipment:

1. Lead is still found in some commercial paints, and these sometimes make their way onto school playgrounds and other outdoor equipment. Older paint layers on existing equipment may also contain lead and so can the surrounding soil. Use a lead test kit to check for issues.

2. Arsenic. Until 2004, wood sold for outdoor use was typically treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA) to resist weather. This toxic blend of chromium, copper, and arsenic can seep out over time where it can easily be absorbed or inhaled. If a playground equipment, picnic table, or other wooden structure was built in 2004 or before, it almost certainly contains CCA, as does the soil around it.

3. Crumb rubber is acclaimed for its shock absorption and longevity. But these tiny black, brown, red, or green pebbles are made from recycled tires containing unsafe substances like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, manganese, mercury, lead, acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, chloroethane, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, and flame retardants. Safer school playground surface alternatives include wood chips, mulches, pea gravel, and sand.

4. Artificial turf can contain lead that’s released as inhalable or ingestible dust, and under full sun it can get hot enough to cause burns and release chemical vapors. It’s also believed that synthetic grass spreads infections by harboring any bacteria that kids bring onto the field. For school playground areas, natural grass is a better alternative.

5. “Play sand” is a manufactured material made from ground quartz that can contain carcinogenic crystalline silica and a mineral called tremolite, which is related to asbestos. Both of these contaminants are easily inhaled. If you see a lot of dust in your kid’s school sandbox or on your kids, there may be an issue. 


Want to find out more about what to look for on your children’s schoool playgrounds and how to fix whatever you find? Explore our new free e-book, Easy Steps to Healthy Schools and Daycares.