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Wood chips or rubber surface? La Crosse area safety campaign compiles “toolkit” for developing safe playgrounds



The playground at La Crosse's Northside Elementary is covered with wood chips on June 12, 2024 (PHOTO: Brad Williams)

Last summer, a community group in La Crosse was promoting wood chips as a safe surface material for local playgrounds to replace rubber chips from tires.

Members of the SPACE group in La Crosse discuss playground safety at Northside Elementary on June 12, 2024 (PHOTO: Brad Williams)

The group called SPACE has now taken its safety campaign a step further, publishing what it calls a toolkit with advice on building safe play areas. The toolkit was unveiled Wednesday during a news conference at Northside Elementary School in La Crosse.

UW-La Crosse chemistry professor Kris Rolfhus said campus research shows that the rubber being used now at play areas presents hazards.

Rolfhus noted university students have taken samples from playgrounds, which use “shredded tire rubber chip fills, that research has shown has had a number of different chemicals — some toxic — and a desire to reduce exposure to children playing on them.”

Rubber surfaces are also criticized for retaining too much heat in the summer. Members of SPACE promote wood chips to replace rubber or asphalt on playgrounds.

Last August, SPACE announced that wood chips have been used to replace rubber surfaces at Crowley Park, outside La Crosse’s Emerson Elementary School.

UW-La Crosse graduate Grace Koch joined La Crosse Talk PM at that time to discuss a study she did on the toxic chemicals that children interact with on playgrounds that are made up of that tire “mulch.” Koch’s study helped lead the city to convert Crowley Park into wood chips, but many school parks remain with the rubber surface.

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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  1. walden

    June 12, 2024 at 9:51 pm

    The elephant in the room is the presence of discarded hypodermic needles left in parks and playgrounds. That is a much larger danger than shredded tire rubber.

  2. Nick

    June 13, 2024 at 10:30 am

    No one should be using rubber in playgrounds.
    No one should be using wood chips since the wood chips scatter and have to be replaced.
    Why not sand or grass

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