Group says local playgrounds unsafe, bypasses Southwest

In a national report released June 24, 18 Minneapolis park playgrounds were found to be dangerous by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Consumer Federation of America. However, no Southwest park playgrounds were evaluated.

Liz Hitchcock, USPIRG communications director, said that the group depends on volunteers for their bi-annual national survey, so they can't get to every park. The group evaluated 1,037 parks nationally.

Using CFA standards set up in 1992, USPIRG found the most common Minneapolis violation was "inadequate surfacing" around playground equipment -- that is, less than 9 inches of porous material, like wood chips, pea gravel or rubberized tile, to reduce the risk of injury from falls.

Emily Ero-Phillips, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board public information officer, said USPIRG did not have the correct information to do their report. "We really disagree with the report that was done," she said.

Ero-Phillips said the park maintenance staff is trained to inspect the playground equipment annually using guidelines from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Society for Testing and Materials.

She said the park staff is looking at the playgrounds listed in the report to assure they meet the guidelines. "Anything that needs to be corrected will be done immediately," Ero-Phillips said.

USPIRG's Hitchcock said the playground evaluations raise awareness of problems and that since they began, the group has noticed a significant decrease in unsafe playgrounds. In 1992, she said, 33 percent of playgrounds evaluated had inadequate surfacing, but this year the number had dropped to 5 percent.

The group reports that 170,000 kids are injured seriously enough on public playground equipment to require emergency room treatment each year, and that an average of 17 die annually.

USPIRG has survey forms available on their website so residents can do their own evaluations. The form can be found at http://uspirg.org, just click on "Playground Safety" under the consumer sidebar.