Mulch Conundrums

The Trib has a good summary of our Mulch Meeting last night.

This morning I read a short article in the NY Times that related to our relationship with the environment.

The first was on a peanut product made in Israel called Bamba which everybody eats and most from a very early age. Someone noticed that there are almost no peanut allergies in Israel and wondered if there was a connection. Of course, I don’t recall hearing about peanut allergies when I was a kid although I remember some horror stories about milk products. Today, according to the article, one in 50 US kids suffer from peanut allergies. A study confirmed that children whose parents rigorously kept them away from peanuts as infants and toddlers were far more likely to have children with peanut allergies, sometimes deadly allergies, than parents whose children ate peanut laced products at an early age.

Of course, peanuts are not the same as PCBs (poly chlorinated biphenols) and a host of other modern chemical creations such as those that can be found in tire rubber. There is no doubt our flushing of cosmetic and medicines down our sinks produces fish that all turn into females. We have a profound influence on our environment that is, at present, far beyond our ability to fully measure.

So, I offer the following observations I made from last night’s meeting.

Of hundreds of chemical compounds likely to be found in tires the dozen or so measured by a laboratory did not show anything particularly alarming.

That said rubber, like wood chips, degrades over time. In the Lester Park school playground there is mulch from the equivalent of 12,000 tires. However, its much more worrisome than that. The shreds of tires are so small that the surface area of the rubber exposed to the atmosphere is factors above what 12,000 full rubber tires would be. Imagine an entire tire reduced to pencil shavings. Every atom in these tires is mere thousandths of an inch from the air. Its no wonder our kids come in with blackened hands. Kids aren’t very fussy about washing up after playing outside. Whatever is in the tires will be near our kids respiratory system for perhaps a thousand playtime hours before they go on to middle school. The bags of mulch from the manufacturer gives alarming instructions about washing up after contact with the bag’s contents to prevent worrisome things from happening. That’s an ironical warning on contents made for our children to play on.

It will take a couple years before some much more extensive tests on tire mulch are conducted elsewhere. Meanwhile some urban school systems have forbidden the use of rubber mulch.

Hauling off the mulch and replacing it with, oh say, wood chips is the least of our costs which might be $110,000. We might have to completely re-engineer our playgrounds by digging them deeper with new drainage systems and re-installing all the equipment or buying new playground toys.

This is just the sort of issue that requires a functional school board to deliberate on calmly. The controversy is only a month old. It could fizzle out or ignite. An unnecessary repair would be expensive but it might offer peace of mind. That peace of mind could end up being as unwarranted as the calm it affords parents who keep their children away from peanut butter in the early years of their lives………or we could discover, years from now, that we subjected our children’s immune systems to substances that could cause long lasting and irreparable harm.