June 3, 2016 -- At its public meeting last night, the North Shore Board of Education voted unanimously to allocate $500,000 towards the removal of the rubber mulch that has served as a protective ground cover for the three district elementary school playgrounds and to replace the material with wood chips. The decision comes after several parents, citing potential health risks to children, had spoken at the three previous board meetings and hundreds of residents had signed a petition urging district leaders to take the action.
It did not appear that the Board was going to address the issue last night, as it was not included on the published agenda. However, after the Board had voted on several action items, Trustee Toni Labatte made a motion to amend the agenda to include a budget transfer of $500,000 for the purpose of replacing the mulch.
The material, also known as rubber crumb, is made from recycled tires and contains many known carcinogens. It often leaves a soot-like residue on the hands, skin, and clothing of the children who play in it.
In April, Dr. Kenneth Spaeth,the Director of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Hofstra University's Northwell School of Medicine, addressed the Board and residents regarding the material, and citing the dearth of solid data, the presence of known carcinogens in the material, the tendency of young children to often exhibit hand to mouth behaviors, and the stage of physical development children are at – especially with regard to the brain and liver, recommended that the mulch be removed and replaced with another material such as hardwood chips.
The district, Dr. Melnick said last night, would immediately put out requests for bids for the project and expressed hope that the work would be completed this summer but added that the work may run into the first few weeks of next school year.
An audience member asked if the board’s action was a response to having seen research regarding the health risks of the mulch.
Dr. Melnick replied that the district had looked at “tons of studies and other playgrounds and the materials that they have used.”
Trustee Marianne Russo, who explained at the May 5th meeting that she believed the board needed to look at the available research before taking action, responded last night that the two most recent studies she read, one from the New York City Department of Health and another more relevant one from California did not indicate any link between the rubber material and health problems in children who had come into contact with it regularly. The California research, she said, did not examine the mulch, but rather the rubberized surfaces that are found at some playgrounds. While that study showed that subjects had an elevated level of a chemical found in the rubber, there was no indication that it presented a health risk.
The Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control, she continued, are putting together a study, with results expected to be published at the end of the year.
Addressing the price tag, Trustee Russo said that despite the tight budget that was approved by voters last month, Assistant Superintendent Olivia Buatsi was able to find savings elsewhere for the expenditure. “We are able in an abundance of caution to replace this surface,” she explained. “This is a precautionary measure that is being undertaken.”
“This is a very precautionary move on part of the Board,” Board President Herman Berliner agreed. “We’re being proactive on behalf of our kids and we think that is an enormously high priority.”
Trustee Michael Nightingale proposed that the Board also consider looking at the artificial turf field at the high school that has as its underlay a granulated version of the rubber mulch. While the athletes are older, he continued, they likely spend more time on the field. “On a precautionary level, you have to look at them [the playground and the artificial turf field] together if you believe there is a risk from exposure.” He suggested that the issue be placed on the agenda for the next meeting.
Dr. Berliner said that he believed Dr. Spaeth had expressed more concerns about the brain development of young children, but that the issue was worth looking at.
Trustee Russo said that she believed that that issue needed to be addressed more regionally since student athletes are playing on similar fields at away games. “It’s everywhere, it’s all over.” she said. The playgrounds “are in our control to remediate.” Action regarding the turf fields she said, “would have to come from a regulatory agency.”
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EXPERT ADVISES REMOVING RUBBER MULCH FROM PLAYGROUNDS (April 17, 2016)
PARENTS PRESS DISTRICT TO REMOVE RUBBER MULCH FROM PLAYGROUNDS (April 7, 2016)