Burned Mulch At KIES Causes Concern

“The burned mulch in the playground at Kent Island Elementary will be replaced. Queen Anne’s County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Carol Williamson made that decision after reviewing a report from the Maryland Department of the Environment with KIES Principal David DuLac. Williamson and DuLac met with Brian Baumgartner, regional registered sanitarian for MDE, at the playground. They were joined by John Wright, maintenance supervisor for county schools, Tom Minnich, one of the Queen Anne’s County Department of Parks and Recreation’s certified playground inspectors, and concerned parent Jennifer Wicker.

Baumgartner asked about the June fire, saying his office only learned of the fire on August 31. Vandals set fire to the rubber mulch on the playground at KIES, melting a slide, blackening parts and causing $35,000 worth of damage to equipment. Normally, in cases of a tire fire, MDE responds; the playground mulch is made from shredded tires. Williamson and Wicker both said they were concerned for the safety of the children and asked if exposure to the burned rubber was hazardous. While burning tires pose a health hazard, Baumgartner said he really did not know what dangers might be involved with the remains, if any.

When GameTime replaced the playground equipment shortly before school started, contractors moved the mulch and then put it back as a base. Students played on the playground the day school opened, and calls immediately started coming in about ruined clothes and shoes. DuLac closed for two days to allow Parks and Recreation workers to spread a 6-inch layer of new rubber mulch on top. Williamson said she saw them remove some of the larger, melted clumps. Officials believed the smaller particles would settle to the bottom and not cause a problem.

Students were again allowed onto the playground, and DuLac said he did not get any more complaints until several days later when he was contacted by a parent who was concerned the burned rubber could be dangerous. The playground again was closed pending Baumgartner’s visit. DuLac received Baumgartner’s report that indicated he had spoken to Ed Dexter, solid waste program administrator, who spoke with MDE’s director. MDE. Baumgartner recommended “that the old burned chips be removed, along with any soil, tire chips, etc. that have been contaminated with the ash from the burned tire chips.”” Both Williamson and DuLac said they hope the work will be done as quickly as possible, hopefully by their return after Labor Day.