MAHWAH — Following several months of discussions in Bergen County's largest township, parents concerned with the health and cleanliness of their young children finally know how those concerns will be handled.

And while it's not exactly the solution they wanted, parents will likely be more at ease come next school year.

At its June 26 meeting, the district announced plans to redo the playground surfaces at three elementary schools. The existing rubber tire mulch, which parents have been fighting to get removed, will remain, but it'll be contained and a compacted hardwood chip surface will take over as the top layer.

Parents say the shredded tire mulch, which has been in place since the late 1990s, leaves black soot residue on their children's skin and clothes, and the unregulated chemical content of the material has led to mandatory testing of all fields and surfaces that use the material in other towns and municipalities throughout the country.

"The rubber mulch provides excellent impact absorption while the compacted wood mulch delivers an environmentally friendly, aesthetically pleasing, clean, and importantly, ADA compliant surface," Superintendent Lauren Schoen told New Jersey 101.5 in an emailed statement. "This solution responds to parents concerns' about surface temperature, odor, direct contact with the rubber mulch and stains on their children's clothes."

But for the hundreds of parents who signed an online petition to completely remove the tire mulch from the property, the proposed solution doesn't address their biggest concern — has the original material been toxic all along? If so, it'll still be seeping into the soil.

"I'm disappointed that they've chosen to just cover up the problem, rather than remove it," said Anne Powley, whose youngest child attends one of the affected schools.

Due to a federal loophole, Powley said, the testing of used rubber tires is not necessary before children can play in it. As long as the recycling of a hazardous waste product creates a consumer product, it's exempt from control measures.

However, while rubber mulch does not have to be tested for lead or carcinogens ahead of its use, the state health department does require testing before it can be thrown away.

"If it tests positive for toxins it goes to a hazardous waste landfill. That's crazy," Powley said, calling for a legislative remedy to the "regulatory vacuum."

By not removing the current mulch, Powley said, the district does not have to test the material.

The district does not acknowledge any health concerns related to the mulch currently in place. It's anticipated that the three playground surfaces will be renovated by fall 2019.

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