This Viewpoint was originally published in CT Mirror on July 2, 2019.

Connecticut landscape architects came out against a bill that would have protected our smallest children from dangerous playgrounds.

Proposed Bill 7003 this year would have establish a moratorium on the use of crumb rubber mulch being used as a surfacing material in municipal and public school playgrounds.  Why was this bill proposed and why was it important for the health of our smallest children?

Crumb rubber or waste tire rubber mulch once promoted to be used in small children’s playgrounds is now known to contain carcinogens and irritants.
After testing nine different samples of rubber mulch from nine different new bags of playground mulch,  the mulch was found to contain 11 carcinogens and 20 irritants.  This analysis was conducted  at Yale University. Many of the irritants found were lung irritants. With so many of Connecticut’s children having asthma — no child should be exposed to additional lung irritants.

Parents of children on playgrounds surfaced with rubber mulch complain that their children’s hands become covered with a black material.  This is carbon black — which makes up to 30 percent of each tire and which is also often a carcinogen.  Waste tires are collected from all over the country and put into shredding machines. There are truck tires, car tires of every make and kind and they are all thrown into shredders.

This material was not tested by government or any other designated agency before it was sold to be placed in children’s playgrounds.  In fact, originally it was the EPA itself that promoted using shredded waste tires as surfacing material in children’s playgrounds as a way to get rid of the waste tires that accumulate in this country every year.

Because of their size, small children are close to the ground and therefore they are far more heavily exposed to the toxins in the waste tire mulch than either older students or adults would be.  Placing them on a surface with 11 carcinogens is a very bad idea.

On the website of The Association of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is their code of ethics.  It states the following:

  •  The health and well-being of biological systems and their integrity are essential to sustain human well-being.
  •  Future generations have a right to the same environmental assets and ecological aesthetic as presently exist.
  •  Long-term economic survival is dependent upon the natural environment.
  •  Environmental stewardship is essential to maintain a healthy environment and a high quality of life for the earth.

The Connecticut Chapter of ASLA is a professional association of landscape architects and echoes the mission of the national organization. “The CTASLA aims to lead, educate and participate in the careful stewardship, wise planning and artful design of our cultural and natural environments.”

Why then would this group of professionals come out against protecting our children from a toxic material?

Eric Q Roise, Landscape architect in Hartford – and the project manager at Kaestle Boos Associates, Architects in New Britain —  testified against this bill.

In his testimony he said, “The  proposed  ban  will  greatly  limit  the  choices  available  to  municipalities  in  providing  for  safe  and  accessible  playgrounds  that  can  be  maintained  within  available municipal level  budgets and expertise.”

Why, as Roise said, would landscape architects want municipalities to have a choice of such a toxic material?  As professionals, why would they not recommend safer surfacing materials?

Then, in this month’s Connecticut Landscape Magazine, Daniel Granniss, a member of the CT Association of Landscape Architect’s Advocacy Committee explained the reasoning for the CTASLA taking the position of coming out against protecting small children from waste tire mulch exposures.  He wrote, “We object to this bill and we support municipalities’ discretion to use this product while further study is under development.”

The stated vision of the CTASLA is,” To champion the role of the landscape architect as essential to the development of built environments, stewardship of the natural environment, and the health, safety, and welfare of the general public.”

How does their coming out against the state protecting our smallest children from exposures to a toxic material reflect that vision?  It is time that the  CT Association of Landscape Architects take the time to better understand what is actually in waste tire rubber mulch and rethink their position of recommending its use in our smallest children’s playgrounds. As well, they need to understand the message they send out by opposing the state’s efforts to  protect our smallest children’s health.

Nancy Alderman is President of Environment and Human Health, Inc.

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