Efforts to remove tire materials from Minneapolis playgrounds gaining momentum

Efforts to remove waste tire materials from playgrounds and fields in Minneapolis are gaining momentum. Parents say excessive exposure to the rubber could be toxic for their children.

On Monday, a Minneapolis City Council committee voted to put a moratorium on using any city funds for projects that use those materials until studies on the rubber’s health effects can be completed.

“I don’t think we necessarily have the authority to prohibit what they could put their funds to, we’re leading by example,” said Cam Gordon, the council member who sponsored the resolution.

Committee members also went a step further, directing city staff to see if funding can be found to speed up the process of removing the tire material in concert with Minneapolis Public Schools and the Park and Recreation Board.

The city does not operate any playgrounds or fields, but sometimes provides some funding to those entities. The rubber material is used at 47 Minneapolis Public Schools playgrounds and eight fields operated by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

“The reason I brought this forward is it’s real easy to tell others what to do, but this is really committing city money where our mouths are,” said Andrew Johnson, a council member.

The material was originally thought to be safe for use, but over time skepticism grew. While government agencies are not ordering the removal of the material from playgrounds, they are studying any potential health impacts. Those results are expected by 2019.

“I spent 15 years in the recycling industry and nothing about using recycled tires for playground material makes sense to me,” said Dianna Kennedy, a parent with the citizen group Play it Safe Minneapolis. “We know tires are toxic, and we know kids are getting exposed to it by being on the playgrounds.”

Kennedy allows her child to play on her school’s playground at recess, but warns her of the risks.

“We talk about not scooping it up with her hands, not chewing on it, not covering herself in it which is the way kids play, “ Kennedy said. “And also really washing her hands after recess before she starts to eat with those hands that she’s just been playing on the playground with.”

Separately, the Minneapolis Public Schools are examining the issue, citing a responsibility to provide a safe environment on school property.

“We rely on the Public Playground Safety Handbook by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to guide decision making on playground cover,” said Minneapolis Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Karen DeVet in a statement to Fox 9. “With MPS having playground equipment more than four feet high, the two available playground cover options are wood mulch and rubber mulch. Each option has positives and negatives, and MPS continues to investigate options for a better resolution. As we develop our FY 18 Capital Plan, which will be available for public comment, replacing rubber tire mulch at 47 playgrounds in the district will be one of the projects considered by the Minneapolis Public School Board.”

The city council will consider Gordon’s resolution at its meeting next Friday.