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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNE 11, 1998
9:30 AM
CONTACT:  Public Interest Research Group
Ed Mierzwinski (PIRG) 202-546-9707
Mary Ellen Fise (CFA) 202-387-6121/410-296-4290

Public Playgrounds Place Children At Risk
CFA/PIRG Release National Survey
 
WASHINGTON - June 11 -- Dangerous conditions in a majority of public playgrounds still pose hidden threats to our nation's youngsters, according to a fourth nationwide survey of 760 playgrounds in 24 states and Washington, DC released today by Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). CFA also released an updated comprehensive model law, a revised "Parent Checklist," for playground safety and a new home play equipment factsheet.

"Parents still need to be wary about their local playgrounds," said Mary Ellen Fise, CFA Product Safety Director and co-author of the new playground documents. "We easily located many unsafe playground surfaces and equipment that can lead to injuries and deaths."

"While our surveyors around the country noted improvements, our message today is that public action by parents and playground operators is critically needed to improve playground safety," added Ed Mierzwinski, U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director.

In the fourth national survey of public playgrounds, CFA and the PIRGs focused on the hazards that cause the most serious playground injuries, -- falls, impact with moving swings, entanglement and head entrapment. Protective surfacing under and around all play equipment is the most critical factor on playgrounds, because about 75% of all injuries are caused by falls.

The survey found that:

87% of playgrounds lacked adequate protective surfaces.

Equipment is too high; 62% of climbers and 37% of slides were at heights above six feet.

58% of playgrounds had swing spacing hazards or too many swings per bay.

In 42% of playgrounds, a steady decline from 55% in 1994 and 46% in 1996, there were head entrapment hazards that could lead to strangulation.

In 40% of playgrounds, down from 47% in 1996, there were gaps, protrusions and other features that could entangle a child's clothing and lead to strangulation.

In 44% of playgrounds, surveyors identified peeling, chipping, or cracked paint on at least some playground surface. Further analysis is needed to determine if this paint contains lead. A recent Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) survey of 26 playgrounds found lead in 62% of the playgrounds surveyed.

The groups noted that, although the number of playgrounds lacking adequate protective surfacing (87%) was about the same as in 1996 (85%), they were encouraged by an increase from 15% to 22% of playgrounds with mixed hard and soft surfaces, suggesting that playground operators are gradually replacing older worn grass and asphalt surfacing with soft loose fill and synthetic surfaces. "We believe that public education from our surveys and others is making a difference, although more needs to be done," added Mierzwinski.

In addition to the new survey data, CFA also released a brand new Report and Model Law on Public Play Equipment and Areas that contains detailed provisions addressing safety and design for all play equipment and areas, as well as separate requirements specifically intended for equipment for pre-school age children and for school age children. First published in 1992, the third edition contains a detailed cross-comparison with the CPSC voluntary guidelines for public play equipment.

"The CFA Model Law is a blueprint for safe playgrounds. It goes beyond the voluntary guidelines, giving legislators the child development rationale for critical safety measures, explained Fise. CFA also encourages state and local jurisdictions to adopt these requirements and use them when purchasing new equipment or when refurbishing, remodeling or maintaining existing playgrounds.

According to CPSC, nearly 150,000 children require hospital emergency treatment each year as a result of injuries sustained on public playground equipment. An average of 15 children die in playground-related incidents each year.

"The state PIRGs are committed to working with state legislatures, local governments and parents' groups that want to enact the CFA Model Playground Safety Law," added Mierzwinski.

CFA also released a brand new fact sheet, Home Play Equipment: Tips for Buying and Using, on home play equipment, addressing the safety of backyard play sets and offering tips for selecting and using home playsets.

CFA has also updated its popular free Parent Checklist: How Safe Is Your Local Playground? The checklists sets out 12 important factors to examine and includes an explanation of what is recommended for safer playgrounds. Both fact sheets are available free to individuals by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Playground Checklist, PO Box 12099, Washington, DC 20005-0999.

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Consumer Federation of America is a non-profit association of some 240 pro-consumer groups, with a combined membership of 50 million, that was founded in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through advocacy and education.

U.S. PIRG is the national lobbying office for the state Public Interest Research Groups. PIRGs are non-profit, non-partisan consumer and environmental watchdog groups active around the country. For more information, send e-mail to uspirg@pirg.org or visit the PIRG web site http://www.pirg.org/consumer/playground/98/.

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