Playground rubber surface at Bargara criticised for effects on health and environment

Playground rubber surface at Bargara criticised for effects on health and environment

Work to remove the soft fall surface material at a popular Bargara playground, east of Bundaberg, has renewed concerns over the safety of the recycled rubber material used nationwide.

Key points: The Bargara turtle playground surface will be replaced to prevent further deterioration of the rubber surface. The change has renewed concerns about rubber crumb entering waterways.

Rubber surfaces have been used in modern children’s playgrounds as an efficient and sustainable way to divert old tires from landfill.

But environmental groups say the plan backfired spectacularly.

Tangaroa Blue Foundation chief executive Heidi Tait said she was concerned that “crumbs” from the rubber material posed a risk to human health and the environment as the material aged and disintegrated.

“We identified that rubber crumb escapes from these soft fall playgrounds as the play area deteriorates and those small crumb escape,” she said.

“When it rains, it washes into creeks and stormwater systems and then out into the reef.

“We are really concerned because there is a lot of interest in this issue internationally around the toxins and the chemicals that are in these rubber crumbs.”

There are concerns that rubber crumb from soft fall playgrounds could harm the environment. (ABC Wide Bay: Pat Heagney)

University of Queensland research associate Cassandra Rauert said the tire material contained a variety of potentially dangerous chemicals.

“The problem is when these small pieces of tire get into the waterways, all these chemicals are released into the water,” she said.

“About two years ago, it was discovered that one of the antioxidants commonly used in tires was being converted into a highly toxic chemical that was killing many salmon in the United States.”

She said it raised concerns about the effects of tires in Australian waterways.

“So if you have playgrounds that are near catchments that go into the Great Barrier Reef, we’re washing all these chemicals into the Great Barrier Reef, which is really concerning,” she said.

Heidi Tait says rubber crumb is making its way into the Great Barrier Reef. (ABC Wide Bay: Pat Heagney) ‘We are exposed’

Researcher Cassandra Rauert said she was also concerned about the effect the rubber crumbs could have on people.

“We still have no idea of ​​the human effects of inhaling these tiny tire particles and chemicals,” she said.

“There was a recent study that shows these chemicals are in human urine, which means we’re exposed, so we’re probably breathing in small particles and then these chemicals get into our bodies.

She said more research is needed.

Ian Anderson tested the Bargara playground in November. (ABC Wye Bay: Johanna Marie)

Ms Tait said she was particularly concerned about children inhaling the small rubber particles.

“It just seems like this product is being laid out left, right and center in your play areas around Australia and we haven’t seen one park that hasn’t seen this kind of deterioration,” she said.

“When you have kids playing on it and breathing in, you know, the dust or the little crumb particles as they come up, or they push their hands on it and lick their hand, that’s a concern.”

“We just don’t know what’s in it or how that transmission is.”

Momentum built

The Australian government-funded project ReefClean found in 2021 that rubber material was lost from all the playgrounds studied and recommended that the use of soft fall material be avoided near sensitive environments and waterways.

Ms Tait said it was encouraging to see councils acting on the issue.

“We actually had the Cassowary Coast Council, who actually had one of their parks assessed, pull up all that rubber crumb and start removing it in their council area,” she said.

“They also made a commitment not to use that product anymore.

“So we’re excited to see momentum build and now we have a second council that’s just looking at the surface and saying it’s not fit for purpose and they’re removing it.”

Bundaberg Regional Council says it will explore solutions to protect the marine environment. (ABC Wide Bay: Pat Heagney)

In a statement, the Bundaberg Regional Council said a new mat system would be trialled at the Bargara Turtle Playground to mitigate microplastic pollution from soft-falling “rubber crumb” as the council works towards a permanent solution.

“New research has shown the tendency for this product to disintegrate over time, leading to what are called rubber crumb that can end up in the ocean,” it said.

The council says a new form of carpeting will be trialled. (ABC Wide Bay: Pat Heagney)

“The mat system will be installed on top of most of the existing soft falls at the Turtle Playground from next week and will significantly reduce the amount of potential rubber crumb.

“We will continue to explore alternative solutions to protect our marine environment and our community members and visitors who use our playgrounds.”

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