Once up on time, prior to children, I had a beautiful flower garden. It was full of colorful flowers and (sigh)...has since become a "weed garden"! Last week I finally had some time to rip it all out to start from scratch. I decided not to do plants in this area and instead use this area as a "kid zone". So I started to research safe alternatives for ground cover.
I have some concerns about wood mulch since recycled waste wood used for making landscape mulch products can be contaminated with various chemicals, like creosote and CCA. CCA, chromated copper arsenate is a chemical that was used in the manufacture of pressure-treated wood and contains Arsenic as a major ingredient. If it were from virgin sources and untouched by chemicals, that would be great, but I haven't seen to many brands that can reassure me of that. So now what?
I started googling options and came up with mulch made from recycled tires. Each site I went to said that their tire mulch was "non-toxic". Really? In some states tires are classified as "Hazardous Waste" and in other states they are a "Special Waste", requiring a permit and a fee to dispose of rubber tires. That doesn't leave me thinking they are non-toxic. I discovered that various studies have identified over 49 different compounds in recycled tire mulch. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station "analyzed a sample of ground-up rubber tires and found chemicals like Benzothiazole (a skin and eye irritation, harmful if swallowed), Butylated hydroxyanisole, (a known carcinogen, suspected endocrine toxicant, gastrointestinal toxicant, immunotoxicant and, neurotoxicant), n-hexadecane: Severe irritant based on human and animal studies), 4-(t-octyl) phenol (Corrosive and destructive to mucous membranes), Benzene a known carcinogen, developmental and reproductive toxicant), Phthalates (suspected developmental, endocrine and reproductive toxicant), PAH (suspected cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, liver, reproductive, and respiratory toxicant), Maganese (gastrointestinal or liver toxicants), Carbon Black (a carcinogen) and Latex (causes allergic reactions in some people)". That doesn't sound non-toxic to me? The rubber mulch companies argue that tires don't break down but if you see residue from these same tire products on children's hands and clothing, chemicals are potentially being absorbed through the skin, inhaled, and/or ingested. I'm just not comfortable with that.
Even if those toxins aren't a concern, Consumer Reports stated that "rubber mulch isn’t suitable for playgrounds or play areas: It might contain small pieces of steel or nylon. Its flammability also makes it a questionable choice for homes with smokers or in areas that get frequent fire-weather watches or red-flag warnings. Environmental groups and state governments are also conducting studies to determine whether chemicals in rubber mulch leach into soil." So potential metals splinters or contaminated ground water? Not very reassuring that this is a safe ground covering for small children.
So what are safer choices? If you can find "virgin mulch" that would be my top choice. I'm going to call some local landscape companies and see if they may be taking down some big trees and putting them through a chipper/mulcher. If you aren't concerned about having some cushion, rocks would be another safer option.