Children’s playgrounds a source of toxic microplastics

Children are exposed to potentially endocrine-disrupting chemicals and microplastics from the industrial waste that is used in outdoor activity areas, including sports fields and riding stables. In addition to shredded car tyres used in artificial turf on fields, shredded carpets are now also getting a second life in places where children play sports. VU professor of Toxicology Majorie van Duursen explains the potential risks in a broadcast by the Plastic Soup Foundation.

01/21/2021 | 12:17 PM

Shredded car tyres, known as rubber granulate, are used on sports fields and playgrounds, while shredded carpets (polyflakes), a by-product of the textile industry, or shredded road fabric (geopad) are increasingly used in the arenas of riding stables.

Hazardous substances
The shredded carpet used in riding arenas contains synthetic fibres and microplastics that can be inhaled by people and cause respiratory problems. In addition, carpets also contain many chemicals that potentially pose a health risk to humans, animals and the environment. Around 60 hazardous substances have been identified in European carpets, including phthalates, flame retardants, fluorine compounds and metals. This research was carried out a number of years ago, among others by the Environment and Health department of VU Amsterdam.

“These chemicals can cause harm in several ways,” says Professor Majorie van Duursen, head of the Environment and Health department. “Some may be endocrine disruptors, others may cause neurological problems. Some are carcinogenic or suspected to be carcinogenic, while some are chemicals that can damage your immune system. We know that young children in particular are very sensitive to these effects.”

Insufficient research
On average, a horse riding arena contains about 2400 kilogrammes of synthetic fibres, all of which can release microplastics that are then inhaled by the stable’s users. “The biggest problem is that there has not been enough research done in this area,” says investigative journalist Laura Hoogenraad. “We do not know what the actual effects or risks are of using these fibres in equestrian sports. And yet, they are already widely used.”

The safety of sports fields and playgrounds covered in rubber granulate is also under discussion. Professor Andrew Watterson from the University of Stirling in Scotland points to a gap in the legislation: “In Europe there are strict standards for such chemicals in toys and consumer goods, but the standard for rubber granulate on sports fields and playing fields is much less strict.”

“Some chemicals found in carpets have now been banned in Europe or are being phased out,” confirms Van Duursen. “But they keep popping up on children’s playgrounds through loopholes in the legislation and under the guise of the ‘circular economy’. This is something we should be against.”

Plastic Health Channel
The research was presented on the Plastic Health Channel on YouTube in a broadcast entitled Toxic Playgrounds. The Plastic Health Channel discusses the impact of plastic on human health and is produced by the Amsterdam-based Plastic Soup Foundation. In the broadcast, Laura Hoogenraad reports on her research in the Netherlands, and several prominent experts, including VU Amsterdam professor Majorie van Duursen and members of the European Parliament, respond to this dark side of the reuse of residual and waste products. They make an urgent call for more research into the health effects of microplastics and the chemicals used.