The school year is already in full swing, and when Duluth students returned to their school playgrounds a few weeks back something under their feet was a little different. Gone was the black rubber of tire mulch and in its place, was engineered wood fiber. Students might not notice the change, but for the concerned parents, teachers, and school board members the change is a victory for kids’ safety.
The use of shredded tire mulch on playgrounds and athletic fields has skyrocketed in the last two decades. But in more recent years, safety questions have arisen as chemicals detected in tire mulch have been linked to cancer as well as learning and developmental problems.
A few years ago, parents in Duluth started talking to each other about the black dust covering their kids when they left the playground. They wanted the tire mulched removed from all 10 school playgrounds, so they formed the Duluth Parents for Healthy Playgrounds to do just that. They also started working with Conservation Minnesota. Kathleen Schuler, our Healthy Kids and Families Program Director, worked with the parents group to provide health information, and even testified about the impact to children’s health at a Duluth School Board meeting.
The parent group worked with the school board, who approved the removal of the tire mulch in June 2016. The parent group raised over $14,000—and with assistance from Conservation Minnesota, the money was granted to the Duluth School District to contribute to the cost of completing the playground work for the 2017 school year.
Another parent advocacy group, Play It Safe Minneapolis, worked with the Minneapolis School Board, which voted in May to remove the tire mulch from 47 playgrounds in the district. Conservation Minnesota and local parent groups are also advocating for state policy to create a moratorium on the use of tire mulch on new playgrounds and sports fields until its safety can be assured. We will continue to work to find solutions to this and other issues impacting the health and wellbeing of our children.