Hand washing and removing shoes at home protects you from more than just germs
As soon as spring hits, we find any excuse to go outside and spend time in the sun. If you have kids, outdoor time is often synonymous with heading to the playground. We LOVE the playground and always encourage kids to get outside and play! Washing hands and taking shoes off is a must after the park- so many germs! These habits could also help prevent exposure to two questionable materials that may be a part of your playground.
The first material is wood pressure-treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA). This insecticide was sprayed on wood play structures because it made the wood resistant to degradation and insects. However, 22% of CCA is pure arsenic (1). Arsenic is a super nasty chemical that is classified as a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization. It can also cause "immune system suppression, increased risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, endocrine disruption and diabetes" (2). This chemical is not to be messed with!
Over time, the CCA can be released from the treated wood and can end up on the hands and clothes of your little one. It can also end up in the soil around the playground, so your child may still be exposed even if they don't play on the wooden structure (3).
The good news is that CCA treated wood was banned from residential construction in 2003. So if your neighborhood park has been recently built or renovated, chances are you don't have to worry about this. You can always check with your city or neighborhood association to see if CCA wood is in your local park. It also wouldn't hurt to double check with your kid's school to see what their playground was built with. Usually, CCA treated wood has a green tint, which can make it easy to spot.
Even if your playground does have CCA, it's pretty easy to limit exposure. If you're planning to have a picnic or snack at the park, make sure to use hand wipes or wash hands (if a bathroom is nearby) before eating. After returning home, thoroughly wash your and your child's hands. It also doesn't hurt to wipe everyone down with a wet wipe too! This will help get rid of any chemicals and other undesirables like pollen as well. Leaving shoes at the door can stop CCA-contaminated soil from tracking all over your house.
Crumb rubber is another questionable material that could be found in your playground. Crumb rubber are those small black particles you find in artificial turf that seem to always end up stuck in your shoe/sock/bag/shirt/life/etc. It's actually made from old, used tires that have been chopped up into really tiny pieces. While this may seem like a good idea from a recycling standpoint, it's not great for health. Tire rubber contain a ton of bad chemicals like PAHs, phthalates, phenols and benzothiazoles (4), and the tires are not treated before they end up as crumb rubber. These chemicals are linked to serious health issues like endocrine disruption. The crumbs are so small that they have a habit of getting in your clothes and hair, accidentally getting eaten by curious babies, or sticking to your skin. Crumb rubber can also give off more chemicals as they're heated up in the hot sun. There's even speculation that crumb rubber might have played a role in the cancer of adolescent soccer players (5).
When returning from the playground, you can leave shoes outside so soil and rubber doesn't get tracked around the house. Also make sure to wash your hands or shower! Avoiding play time when it's really hot outside can also limit the amount of exposure. If you've been around crumb rubber, make sure to dust yourself and your play equipment off before you leave the playground to get rid of any hitchhiking rubber pieces. Changing your clothes after returning doesn't hurt either!