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New use for crumb rubber: Horse arena surface
Where children once played, horses tread.
Crumb rubber, removed from the Friday Harbor Elementary School playground on March 7-8 after a citizens committee raised money for its replacement, was sold to Roxanne Christensen of Horseshu Ranch on Douglas and San Juan Valley roads.
School district Athletic Director Rod Turnbull said the sale was for $2,000. The money went to the committee to help defray the $6,000 cost of the wood fiber used to replace the crumb rubber as a playground surface.
Christensen said crumb rubber has long been used as a base surface in horse arenas. “(Veterinarian) Susan Besel sends horses here that need to be rehabilitated,” Christensen said. “Crumb rubber gives them a little spring. For a horse with a ligament or muscle problem, it’s a wonderful way to use that.”
Christensen said she’ll use the crumb rubber in her round pen.
The crumb rubber arrived on the island last summer, after the PTA raised money to buy new playground equipment called the Big Toy. PTA leaders and the school’s principal at the time, Jody Metzger, researched playground surface materials and chose crumb rubber because they felt it provided the best safety in the event of falls. They asked the school district to purchase the material, which the district did for $10,000.
But shortly after it was installed, some parents complained about the mess, some said the odor prompted asthma attacks, some feared negative health impacts from continued exposure to the material and the chemicals it contains.
Some parents said it was impossible to push a wheelchair across the loose material, and that it thus violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Parents hired an attorney and filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The school district agreed to resolve concerns about accessibility.
A mat could have been placed across the surface to provide accessibility to the Big Toy, but the committee, which consisted of parents and a school board member, wanted the material replaced.
Crumb rubber is made from recycled, shredded tires. It is called “crumb” rubber because it is loose, unlike a solid rubber surface you’ll find on a running track.
Although crumb rubber is widely used as a playground surface – it was installed at the new White House playground after the Obamas moved in – it hasn’t been used long enough for its long-term health impacts to be measured.
Turnbull said the wood fiber material is dense enough that a wheelchair can traverse it.
“That was one of the selling points, that it was accessible,” Turnbull said.
He was understanding regarding parents’ concerns about crumb rubber, but felt the whole episode was unfortunate.
“It all depends on your comfort level,” he said. “I personally didn’t see a problem with it, but then again, I wasn't working there every day.
“My only thought on the whole thing is, a lot of volunteer labor went into putting that in,” he said of the playground equipment and crumb rubber. “The ironic thing about this, is they thought they were doing a good thing and putting in a better surface at the time. It backfired.”