New test results show elevated lead in rubber shred at playground in Washington, D.C.

7,000 parts per million lead found in rubber shred at elementary school playground

Ann Arbor, Michigan –  Today the Ecology Center released new test results showing elevated lead levels in rubber shred used in an elementary school playground in Washington DC.  The Ecology Center’s testing showed a wide range of lead levels in rubber shred used at the playground. Third-party labs results validated the findings, with results showing 7,079 and 6,514 parts per million (ppm) in two individual tire shred samples.  The Ecology Center collaborated with the Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition to collect samples from Janney Elementary School in Washington, DC.  Full report and the analysis is available here.

"This shredded rubber waste fill material we tested has widely varying lead levels, ranging for non-detect to thousands of ppm. Some of these levels are 100 times higher than what is allowed in children's products," stated Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center.  "In addition, rubber and tire contain potentially hazardous extender oils, curatives, antioxidants, plasticizers and other fillers whose environmental fate is not well characterized.  I remain concerned that these materials are so widely used, yet so poorly characterized."

Rubber shred material from poured-in-place (PIP) playground at Janney Elementary School

This playground surface, a material called poured-in-place or PIP, is a paved, rubberized playground surface usually consisting of shredded waste rubber or tires on a rock or concrete base topped by a thin layer of granulated synthetic rubber in a glue-like matrix.

The Ecology Center analyzed by HD XRF 34 individual rubber shreds in the 43.5 gram bulk sample.  These 34 shreds represented approximately half of the bulk sample's mass. Lead content in the individual shred pieces was heterogeneously distributed.  The results can be grouped into two categories: Non-detect to low; and high.

  • Non-detect to Low:   26 of 34 (76%) of the rubber shred pieces had lead levels lower than 30 ppm.  Average concentration of lead in these samples was 4 ppm.
  • High:   8 of 34 (24%) of the rubber shred pieces had lead levels greater than 1,951 ppm.  Detected levels of lead ranged from 1,951-59,096 ppm, with an average of 9,119 ppm.  One sample was an outlier at 59,096 ppm.  Removing the outlier results in an average of 2,872 ppm.
  • All samples:  The average lead for all 34 samples was 2,417 ppm.
  • Third party lab testing measured lead levels of 6,514 and 7,709 in two shred samples.

"Experts agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure. Children exposed to even low levels of lead can be harmed, including attention-related behavior problems and poorer cognitive abilities,” stated Diana Zuckerman, PhD, President, National Center for Health Research.  “It can also delay puberty, reduce growth, and may affect kidney function. Exposure as a child can lead to lifelong health effects."

Safe Healthy Playing Fields issued this open letter and policy recommendations linked to the D.C. government in July 2018.

Safe Healthy Playing Field FAQ on Test Results

January 2018: DC Safe Healthy Playing Fields Policy Recommendations Summary

Open Letter to Mayor Bowser, July 2018

 

Published on May 6, 2019