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Burned at the playground - Pressure on Parks Department to better safeguard kids

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Senator Carl Kruger, chairman of the Senate’s Social Services, Children and Families Committee, joined the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates at a news conference outside City Hall demanding measures to improve playground mat safety following incidents of children getting burned by surfaces that can reach temperatures of 166 degrees in hot weather.

Kruger, who called for the formation of an emergency task force to investigate the problem, noted at the news conference that alternatives to the scalding mats are available and in use today. One alternative, called Pebble-Flex, is porous, comes in bright colors and resists ultraviolet rays, “making it a far more child-friendly surface,” Kruger said.

Pebble-Flex surfaces are being used at Tompkins Square Park and PS 198 in Manhattan, he said, as well as playground surfaces in Florida, Arizona, and at Disney World and LegoLand. The product costs about a dollar more per square foot but lasts longer than rubber, Kruger said.

“We’re not asking that the city reinvent the wheel. Options are available that can eliminate this danger and prevent more children from serious injury,” he said.

Kruger said that more than a dozen children are treated each year at the city’s three burn centers, and many others at local hospitals, for injuries caused by playground equipment that reaches high temperatures.

He said the city Parks Department does not test materials for the heat they may generate and relies in part on safety standards created by the American Society for Testing Materials, which also does not test for excessive heat. According to physicians, contact with a surface over 120 degrees can burn the skin in a matter of minutes — in just seconds if surface temperatures reach 140 degrees, he said.

“The city’s repeated use of products without first testing them is nothing short of negligent,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates.

“If we knew about this danger in our own backyard, we would immediately replace the rubber mats,” Kruger said.

“New York City playgrounds serve as our great big urban backyard,” he said. “If we want families to remain loyal to our city and avoid having them flee for the suburbs, we have to assure a safe environment for children to play,” he said.

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