News reports reveal that playground equipment may cause burn injuries to children during the summer season due to significantly elevated surface heat. One New York parents group is trying to have black top made from recycled tires removed from playgrounds after it was noticed that these surfaces get hot enough to cause burn injuries in children. Most parents are likely to think that slides would be the culprit that retains the most surface heat while glistening in the sun. However, black tops made from recycled rubber get hotter. Black tops get hot enough to burn kids because of the heat retention properties of black and darker surfaces.


When “Good Morning America” staff and paramedics from Montgomery County, MD teamed together to measure surface temperatures on playgrounds, their findings were surprising. While it takes 124 degrees to cause first and second degree burns to human skin, children are more susceptible to burn injuries at slightly lower temperatures and will sustain more serious burns to their delicate skin. The surface temperatures of the black top used in playgrounds was measured and found to range between 132 – 142 degrees. The NYC Park Advocates report that black top surface measurements as high as 160 degrees have been found during the summer months.


Naturally, one way to prevent burn injuries is to have your child wear shoes. However, should any other part of your child’s body come in contact with the elevated surface temperature found in recycled rubber black top your child may still sustain a burn injury.  Please check the playground surface temperature before letting your child go on the equipment, especially in un-shaded playground areas. Light colored surfaces retain less heat and will have lower surface temperatures.   


Thousands of children are hospitalized every year with burn injuries. Developmentally speaking, the skin of younger children is thinner and therefore an injury from burns can cause a greater degree of injury. Keep in mind that a young child’s skin burns at a lower temperature and a greater depth than that of an older child or an adult’s skin. The classification of burns has been traditionally referred to as first, second, third or fourth degree burns. However, the use of terms such as superficial, superficial partial-thickness, deep partial-thickness and full thickness descriptors are becoming more common. Once a burn injury is sustained, different clinical factors present and the victim’s condition may change from day to day. Sometimes these changes make a burn wound worse and may require more treatment in the days following the original injury. So it is hard to tell how extensive an injury is until time goes by and the degree of injury becomes better understood. The degree of injury guides clinical practice and treatment. In general, a child is hospitalized if a superficial burn injury, or worse, exceeds 9% of the total body surface area or if abuse is suspected. And if a full-thickness burn involves 2%, or more of the body surface area the child will be hospitalized. The anatomical location of the injury is also considered while making treatment decisions. Burns to the face, perineum, hands and feet require hospitalization. If 1% body surface area, or greater, of these surface areas are burned, the child will likely be hospitalized. Also requiring special attention are joint areas affected by burn injury. Scarring could cause significant disability and these injuries must be handled carefully.    

Christopher Keane
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California Child Abuse and Child Injury Lawyer
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