Darmstadt tests prompt look at lead levels in district's playground equipment
Stars and Stripes March 23, 2006
DARMSTADT, Germany — Playground equipment throughout the Heidelberg School District was tested for lead contamination last week after Darmstadt Elementary School equipment was found to contain lead levels above federal health limits.
The Darmstadt equipment was replaced last week. As a precautionary measure, older playground fixtures at Mannheim, Babenhausen, Patrick Henry and Dexheim elementary schools were also tested, with results expected in about two weeks, said Jose Tovar, a Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe facilities engineer.
“Our folks should have those pieces of equipment off-limits as a precautionary measure,” said David Ruderman, a DODDS spokesman.
DODDS adheres to a maximum lead content of 0.05 percent by weight in paint used for things such as playground equipment, Tovar said, a standard set by the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission. The Darmstadt equipment — a slide and a playhouse — tested at 1.1 percent and 0.46 percent, respectively, he said, and had deteriorating paint at points accessible to children.
Darmstadt Elementary Principal Russ Claus said last week that the lead-contaminated spots were only on the foundation pieces of the slide.
Lead paint is not considered a health risk when it is intact and not cracking, chalking, chipping or wearing away. Poisoning can occur when a child ingests chips, dust or pieces of lead-based paint.
A few weeks ago, DODDS received word that the Darmstadt equipment, found in a kindergarten playground, had tested for high lead levels, DODDS spokesman Dennis Bohannon said. DODDS could not explain why the Darmstadt testing was done in December or why officials just learned of the results a few weeks ago. Bohannon said it was an annual inspection, while Tovar said it was not, and that he didn’t know why the tests were initiated.
Part of the high lead levels may have to do with the age of the equipment, DODDS officials said. The Darmstadt slide and playhouse, as well as the equipment being tested at other schools, were manufactured in the early 1990s, Bohannon said. In 2000, more-stringent lead-content regulations were adopted by DODDS and made a condition for German contractors providing equipment. After the adoption of those standards, equipment was tested and replaced if necessary, Bohannon said.
Levels in the two Darmstadt pieces of equipment were probably not detected earlier because the paint was still intact, Tovar said. A few other schools outside the Heidelberg district have older equipment as well.
“We’re identifying that now, and we’ll probably do the same testing,” he said. “We’ve known that there is still some of that out there, but we’re trying to make sure there is good maintenance to make sure the equipment is in good shape.”
Playgrounds are generally not considered a significant source of lead poisoning, said Julie Vallese, a Consumer Products Safety Commission spokeswoman.
“Still far and above, the most common way [for children to get lead poisoning] is in their residential exposure, the place where they spend the majority of their time,” Vallese said.
“The things people need to look for are any cracking or peeling” of lead-based paint, Vallese said, adding that the nature of children makes them more susceptible to the hazards of paint chips.
Lead poisoning can cause stunted growth, as well as learning and behavioral problems, she said.