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Water-Saturated Playgrounds

The first safety concern for a flooded playground is to keep children away until the playground is dry and decontaminated. Fencing like this, however, isn’t going to keep an adventurous child out. When the stormwater runoff recedes, the concern is for such contaminates as e-coli and other bacteria, viruses and toxic chemicals.


The heavy spring rains and flooding in a number of states, especially in the Midwest, turned many playgrounds in parks, schools and childcare centers into ad hoc “splash pads.”

The first safety concern was, of course, was putting fencing or barriers up to keep children away from flooded playgrounds. When the waters began to recede, the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) suggested signage to warn of contaminated surfacing and equipment from stormwater runoff. The presence of e-coli and other bacteria, viruses and toxic chemicals are all concerns.

If the playground surfacing was loose fill materials (wood, rubber chips, sand or pea gravel), it will be important to be sure the surfacing is removed. Mold and bacteria can easily develop within organic (wood products) loose fill surfacing. Local landfill authorities should be consulted for disposal options.

Solid surfacing such as poured-in-place or rubber tiles need to be power-washed to remove possible contaminates. If the unitary surface or tiles have become loose during a flood, it may be necessary to replace the playground area with new surfacing.

Once the playground is dry, the NPPS recommends all the equipment and surfaces be sprayed with a 1:100 dilution of chlorine bleach and allowed to dry with a water rinse in 24 hours. The chlorine bleach wash is important as the hepatitis A virus can remain on surfaces for up to four to nine days without a bleach wash. New mulch in the disinfected playground area can then be placed.

For questions about the safety of the surfacing or equipment, the local health department is a good source.

(Note: Catherine Zeman, PhD, associate professor in HPELS, at UNI gave technical assistance to NPPS regarding playground contamination.)

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December 10, 2019, 7:35 pm PDT

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