Parents push for warnings on playground surfaces, synthetic turf in extreme heat

Parent activists are pushing District and school leaders to do more to keep children from synthetic turf and playground surfaces in excessive heat.

Experts say synthetic turf surfaces get significantly hotter than grass.

The District's fields and playground surfaces are managed by the Department of General Services, which does not appear to have a policy in place when it comes to the surface temperatures of fields or play surfaces.

FOX 5 used an infrared thermometer on Tuesday, which saw high temps throughout the day, to measure surface temperatures at several fields in the District.

At Janney Elementary about 5 p.m., children were playing on the field when it registered at nearly 140 degrees, but parents provided readings gathered earlier in the day that hit above 160. At nearby Murch Elementary, temperatures of the field were around 120 degrees, while nearby grass was in the 90s.

Dr. John Abraham, a professor of engineering at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, provided his expert opinion to DC council members studying the issue last year.

Dr. Abraham says the synthetic surfaces can be dangerously hot and recommends that the fields aren't used if registering above 110 degrees.

"This isn't just an inconvenience. This isn't just uncomfortably hot. It can be dangerously hot," he said.

Alex Dimsdale says her son got second-degree burns from a playground surface at the Harrison Recreation Center in 2016. She says there should be warnings for all parents about how much hotter the surfaces can be than natural grass.

"If they can put a warning on my cup of coffee from McDonald's saying warning contains extremely hot liquids, they should be able to do the same for something that kids are running on," said Dimsdale.

DC Public Schools did not respond to questions about the policies. The DC Department of General Services (DGS) sent FOX 5 a statement, which did not answer questions asked about whether or not the surface temperatures are measured or at what point the fields are closed.

The statement reads, "DGS has posted an advisory online and continues to work with agency partners and frontline staff to notify the public on any heat-related risks when using facilities. In partnership with our Interagency Working Group on Artificial Turf and Playgrounds, DGS regularly reviews applicable research and science to inform our policies and ensure the continued safe use of all of our fields."

The warning DGS posted to Twitter acknowledges that artificial surfaces can get very hot and offers advice to use them safely, including limiting use from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. However, students were spotted on the fields later in the evening when temperatures were still reading significantly higher than surrounding grass.

Both Montgomery County Public Schools and Prince George's County Public Schools did not specifically say if their synthetic fields are monitored for surface temperature but indicated they limit the use of fields when the air temperature is excessively hot.