Small children have a tendency to pick things up off the ground and stick them in their mouths. Sarah Pagliaccio knows this — after all, she’s got a toddler.
So when she passed by the under-construction Harry Downes Playground on Pond Avenue recently and noticed industrial chemical drums at the work site, she grew concerned. Before the playground closed for renovations last spring, Pagliaccio and her son were regulars. Now she worries about the materials being used in the new playground.
“The barrels themselves look really alarming, and I think it sort of tipped me over the edge,” Pagliaccio said. “I understand that we’re in the process of updating the parks, I don’t object to that, but … seeing these bright red — literally alarm-bell red — barrels with ‘Dow chemical product’ labeled on them was just really, really upsetting.”
So Pagliaccio wrote to Erin Gallentine, Brookline’s Parks and Open Space director, with her concerns.
“I absolutely understand how materials used in fabrication and construction of public spaces can be of concern, especially when you have little ones using the playgrounds,” Gallentine wrote in her response, which she shared with the TAB. The materials are meant to be durable, safe and easy to maintain, resulting in an inclusive park, she said.
And, most importantly, the materials — most of which are now standard for playgrounds — are tried and tested with safety in mind, she said.
According to Gallentine, the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board has updated language that calls for play areas to use “firm, stable and slip resistant, permanent materials,” which rules out loose fill like wood chips.
“Rubberized playground surfacing is not only the standard safety surfacing for public playgrounds, it is a requirement for accessible and inclusive playgrounds,” she wrote.
The poured-in-place surface is made of clean, recycled rubber or sometimes asphalt or stone course, with a decorative top layer made of virgin synthetic rubber held together by a polyurethane binder, Gallentine explained. The binding agent has little odor, is weather-resilient and is safe when cured, she said.
“The material that we are using for safety surfacing is a common and accepted best practice across the United States. It is used at day care facilities, school grounds and public playgrounds,” Gallentine wrote. “The surfacing that we are using is best practice, industry standard, safety compliant and ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant.”
Pagliaccio said she understands some building materials are necessary to make parks more accessible, but she also wants to make sure the materials are safe for kids, including small children who are prone to licking surfaces or eating things off the ground.
“I think we, as parents, need to know the exact materials that are going into these parks so we can make smart choices about where the kids play,” she said, adding that seeing the construction materials has made her less likely to bring her son to the park.