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10 Facts About PVC and Playground Equipment
By: Eric E. Torrey

Many playground manufacturers tout their product as being PVC-free. Others don't. Either way, why is this even an issue to be considered by potential playground equipment purchasers?

The fact of the matters is that the question that should be asked is not about whether PVC is safe or not safe. The true question is about phthalates. Are phthalates safe, or are they hazardous to children? And, does the use of PVC on playground equipment expose children to phthalates?

What are phthalates? And what do they have to do with PVC? And, more importantly, what do PVC and phthalates have to do with playgrounds?

Phthalates are a family of compounds used as a plasticizer (softener) for PVC. When added to PVC, you get that soft, rubbery coating found on the decks, stairs, and ramps of many metal playground sets instead of that hard, non-flexible PVC that one thinks of (as in PVC pipe, etc.).

And, there is an ongoing debate as to whether or not the phthalates found in the PVC that is used to coat some metal playground equipment is safe or hazardous to the health of the children playing on that equipment.

How long the debate lasts, and who wins (if anyone wins), does not matter. What does matter is that potential purchasers of playground equipment learn the facts, weigh the facts, and make an informed purchasing decision.

So, here are the facts.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has banned six toxic phthalates from children's products. President Bush signed this ban into law. This ban covers children's toys, defined as, "any object designed, manufactured, or marketed as a plaything for children under 14 years of age."

Playground equipment is excluded from the CPSC ban on phthalates not because of any evidence that phthalates are safe, but because the CPSC has decided that playground equipment is not considered a "toy" by definition.

A recent article to the playground industry states, "There is absolutely no data, none, to support the notion that PVC will harm or injure children who play on PVC coated play equipment" and, "Studies have shown that f-PVC additives are not leached from landfill PVC products."

The article does not mention phthalates at all.

The PVC Handbook, published by C.P. Hall, states, "The phthalate DEHP will migrate out of the plastic as a vapor at temperatures over 86 degrees F" and, "Under relatively slight pressure, phthalates will exude from PVC. As little as 1.4 lb/sq-inch can result in loss of 30% of the plasticizer."

Europe banned the use of phthalates in playground equipment years ago. Canada is currently considering a similar ban.

Research is ongoing. On July 1, 2009, it was reported, "Findings from a study of Chinese newborns suggest that pregnant women exposed to phthalates increases the risk of low birth weight." 

Because of the additives (phthalates) required to make it useable, PVC is nearly impossible to recycle, leading the Association of Post Consumer Plastic Recyclers to declare PVC as a "contaminant" in 1998.

Proponents of the use of PVC on playground equipment surfaces point out that no tests have been completed on playground equipment specifically showing PVC to be hazardous. But, as a nod to public demand, many now offer a non-PVC option.

Ironically, there have been no tests completed on playground equipment specifically showing these substitute products to be long-lasting and able to stand up to the wear associated with playground use.

There are numerous sources that can be found online that address the safety/hazards of PVC and phthalates. Only an informed purchaser of playground equipment can determine the relative importance of each and every issue associated with the purchase decision.

Eric E. Torrey is director of marketing for Safeplay Systems, www.safeplaysystems.com.

Product Roundup

Pebble-Flex Surfacing
Pebble-Flex Surfacing is an ideal choice for all of your resurfacing and safety surfacing needs.  Their UV light stable system combines thermoplastic urethane pebbles with aliphatic urethane binder, making their surface soft, safe, durable, and skid-resistant. Their products are the result of constant, ongoing research and development. Pebble-Flex can incorporate intricate designs using their bright colors, which won't fade or degrade in sunlight. They offer a five-year warranty. 

Praygrounds' products boldly display God's word, encourage prayer, teach the stories of the Bible, and help fulfill the Great Commission. Their innovative Prayer Path, for example, when put out front of a church along a road with a 30,000 traffic count will present 100,000,000 impressions of God's and invitations to pray annually. If just 10% of passersby are reminded to pray for themselves and just nine other people, 16,000,000 additional prayers will be lifted up in your community annually. Talk about community impact!

PlayGuard Safety Surfacing
PlayGuard has been protecting children from playground-related accidents and creating more accessible play areas for children of all ages and abilities for over 15 years. PlayGuard playground tiles safely cushion the impact of a fall to reduce the risk of serious injury for both outdoor and indoor play areas. ECORE International, the manufacturer of PlayGuard, reinforces its commitment to safety by being one of the few playground surfacing manufacturers to take its product through the rigorous process of being IPEMATM certified.

With innovative cord-based playground equipment, ElephantPlay brings distinct and different play experience. The equipment spins, rotates, rocks, and/or swings. The movements of the equipment together with the climbing opportunities enable the child to enjoy a multi-dimensional play and increased physical activity. ElephantPlay manufactures high-quality and robust net-based equipment that ignites safe play with low equipment maintenance. ElephantPlay encourages physical activity and quality play by offering cord-based playground equipment that moves.

DunRite Playgrounds
DunRite Playgrounds is a Christian organization focused on serving the Kingdom. They offer quality products to church and faith-based clients at the best value possible without compromising safety. Choose from a broad selection of gymnasium and flooring products, including Bleachers, Padding, Scoreboards, Basketball, Strength and Fitness, Exercise, Volleyball, Sports Medicine, Badminton, Racquetball, Floor Coverings, Mats, Gymnastics, Physical Education, Games, and more. Whether your needs are indoor or outdoor, they can help your church. 

Shade Systems
Shade Systems is a market leader in the design and manufacture of pre-engineered outdoor shade structures. Their products protect children and adults from the sun's harmful U.V. rays, while reducing your operating costs with their innovative Turn-N-Slide easy canopy removal system for quick canopy removal and reattachment in the event of a hurricane or for the winter season.

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