Letter of the Editor: Playground fixes, not redesign, needed for ADA compliance

City officials pledged to replace the wood-chip play surface at Lafayette Park this spring after more than a year of complaints that it didn't meet ADA requirements. (Brian Kapur/The Current/April 2017)

In exhorting the city to make the Lafayette playground Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, The Current’s May 24 editorial implied that Engineered Wood Fiber is not an ADA-compliant surface. This is not the case. Engineered Wood Fiber can be a compliant playground surface if installed and maintained properly. (This is discussed fully in reports from the U.S. Access Board and National Center on Accessibility and from the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association, available as PDFs at tinyurl.com/yb63lkx2 and tinyurl.com/yd2u68y3.)

Rather than requiring the PlayDC contractor to correct flaws in its design and/or installation of the Engineered Wood Fiber (for which there is no excuse), and rather than committing to regular maintenance of the Engineered Wood Fiber, the city seems ready to replace the natural-looking surface with “artificial turf.”

A switch to “artificial turf” is not merely an aesthetic issue — it’s a health issue. I have such strong chemical sensitivities that I’ve had my throat tighten up when I am around plastics or chemicals.

Lafayette is one of the few playgrounds where I can watch my kids play without a headache from breathing in fumes from artificial surfaces. Moreover, given investigative reports by NBC News, ESPN and The Washington Post about carcinogenic effects of turf and rubberized surfaces, I find it astounding that we would even consider installing a surface that may compromise children’s health.

Eighty years ago, Congress passed the Capper-Cramton Act to beautify our area, protect natural systems and views, and increase people’s enjoyment and benefit. This green park in Chevy Chase was purchased under that legislation and has fulfilled that vision ever since. The community overwhelmingly supported a natural park in PlayDC meetings, voting for the theme of “Rock Creek,” and asking for wood play equipment like that in use at Beauvoir School or St. Columba’s Nursery School. The large majority of neighbors similarly sought a natural ground surface, and the city offered Engineered Wood Fiber as an ADA-compliant option.

I cannot imagine that the crafters of the Americans with Disabilities Act meant for a generation of children to be exposed to dubious, even carcinogenic artificial surfaces. We should not have to compromise on health, or give up on the vision of a green ring of parks, in order to be accessible. Accessibility to all is a must. With correct installation and maintenance, we can have a natural, accessible park for the benefit of all. I hope that is the direction in which D.C. will head.

Laura Phinizy, Chevy Chase