For years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has endorsed recycling old tires into cushiony playground surfaces like the one slated to go under the “play rocks” in Shaw’s planned Tenth Street Park.

Now, it turns out, the agency is having second thoughts, given that tires contain arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury and other chemicals known to cause cancer.

Ooops—-this could uproot a key component of our country’s built environment. Heck, even the Obamas had this kind of surfacing installed under the spanking new jungle gym at the White House a few months back. There is also mounting concern, however, that it’s not such a great idea to let the kiddies play with so many carcinogens – not to mention latex, which causes allergic reactions in some people.

Though late to this debate, the EPA last year quietly launched its own study into the potential health risks associated with the shredded tires, known in the biz as “tire crumb.” That was months before the Obama kids got their new playground. But I guess the president didn’t get the memo. Apparently, hardly anyone did.

The Associated Press first revealed the EPA’s qualms last week.

The same day, the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, slammed the agency for failing to act in the public’s interest and released internal EPA memos in which agency scientists warned of the risks.

“Kids roll around in this stuff, put it into their mouths and rub it into their skin and hair. Despite the growing concerns of its own scientists, EPA has issued no public statement of caution and still promotes tire crumbs in playgrounds,” Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, says in a press release that you can find, along with the internal EPA memos, here.

The Environmental News Agency has also weighed in with some backstory details.

But what about the Tenth Street Park, which is scheduled to break ground June 15th, and all those playgrounds around town already paved in tire crumb?

Photo courtesy of gemsling, Creative Commons Attribution License