Berkeley playgrounds are among the safest in the country, according to a nationwide study by the Consumer Federation of America and the Public Interest Research Group.
The study, “Playing it Safe: The Sixth Nationwide Safety Survey of Public Playgrounds,” found that outside of Berkeley, seemingly innocent recreation yards are sometimes hazardous. Hard surfaces, equipment that is too high off the ground and swings that are too close together pose significant safety risks to children, according to the study.
“Playgrounds can be wonderful places for children to have fun and face new challenges, but far too many playgrounds contain hazards that can injure and even kill,” said California Public Interest Research Group campaign director Becki Kammerling.
According to federal data, more than 190,000 children injured on public playground equipment in 2001 required emergency medical treatment.
Eighty percent of playground injuries were the result of falls – making the playground surface where a child lands one of the most important factors in park safety.
All nine of the Berkeley parks examined in the study used a federally-recommended playground surface made of sand and hardwood chips or synthetic rubber. But none of the park surfaces were the recommended thickness of 9 inches.
According to the study, Berkeley playgrounds also have adequate “fall zones,” or spaces to land around swingsets and climbers. Crowding the area with other equipment, by contrast, can lead to dangerous collisions for falling children.
None of the Berkeley parks in the study had equipment that could entrap or entangle children. Kathy Swartz, CalPIRG campaign coordinator, said this type of equipment – a ladder with narrowly-spaced bars that could trap a child’s head, for instance – are most often to blame for the 15 to 20 children who die in playground accidents each year.
Perhaps the most high-profile playground danger is chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, a wood preservative and pesticide used in play structures across the country. CCA is a type of arsenic, which is a known human carcinogen.
Since the mid-1990s Berkeley’s City Council has provided at least $100,000 each year to address CCA and other playground hazards.
The Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department has identified CCA in equipment at 12 of the city’s 48 play areas. In at least two cases the equipment has been replaced. The rest of the effected wood has been sealed to prevent leaks and is scheduled for replacement.
There are no mandatory national standards for playground safety, though the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has published a series of recommended guidelines.
California regulations that reflect the federal recommendations went into effect January 2000.
Parents at Willard Park Tuesday afternoon said, in their experience, Berkeley parks are generally safe.
“Most of them are pretty good,” said Lisa Cloud, a mother of a 4-year-old who has twins on the way.
Parents said they simply avoid area parks with dangerous equipment or broken glass.
The nine Berkeley playgrounds in the study include Grove Park, Willard Park, Peralta School Park, two playgrounds at Malcolm X school, two at Ohlone Park, and a pair at San Pablo Park.