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Three Queens playgrounds declared unsafe in report

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Three Queens playgrounds rank among the most unsafe in the city, according to a biannual Playground Safety Report issued last week by the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The report, which surveyed 44 playgrounds in the city for eight different hazards, such as unsafe equipment height and toxic playground risk, found only two playgrounds to be risk-free, and cited hazards in 11 Queens locations.

The most dangerous playgrounds in Queens are the Saul Weprin Playground at PS 162 in Bayside, Marie Curie Playground at MS 158 in Bayside, and the playground in Cunningham Park in Fresh Meadows. All three were cited for five of the eight surveyed hazards, including toxic playground risk, head entrapment, and dangerous equipment. A total of 12 playgrounds citywide were deemed the most unsafe.

Queens Parks Commissioner Richard Murphy said he will take the report into careful consideration and send two certified park managers to assess the playgrounds’ safety levels.

“When I get complaints from the public, it is always something to look at,” Murphy said. “This report is an eye opener and we plan to take it seriously.”

However, Murphy emphasized that he has received no complaints about these relatively new parks from the always vocal borough residents and that there are three or four antiquated parks scheduled for renovation that pose much greater risks than the ones surveyed.

“Especially when it comes to wood equipment, there were a couple of comments (in the report) that were directly on the money,” Murphy said. “But at this point in time, I think we’re ahead of the curve.”

The Parks Department is almost finished with replacing all of its wooden playground equipment, he said.

Besides its splintering texture, the main concern with wooden equipment is that much of it is finished with chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, a compound containing the known carcinogen arsenic.

CCA was a main focus of the report, as the compound’s presence in playground equipment was discovered just last year by Rochesterians Against the Misuse of Pesticides, said Judy Braiman, the organization’s president and co-founder. Braiman said the group fears children will ingest arsenic by absorbing it from the wood and then putting their hands in their mouths.     Playgrounds in the report were cited as toxic risks if they had structures with CCA-treated wood or chipping paint. All three highlighted Queens playgrounds were cited for toxic risk because of chipping paint. No playground surveyed in Queens was cited for CCA.

NYPIRG has received some criticism for the report because many of the playgrounds surveyed have been recently renovated as a result of prior safety concerns, said Susan Craine, a NYPIRG consumer advocate and surveyor for the report.

“There have been improvements, but there are other things that still need to be addressed,” Craine said.

She also said the report’s standards have been criticized for encouraging a decrease in the “play value” of the new playgrounds, including the report’s censure of equipment higher than six feet.

“If you’re looking down from six feet as a kid, it’s much different than as an adult,” Craine said. “I don’t think the play value is diminished.”

After the report met some resistance from City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Craine stressed that while NYPIRG wants to work with agencies and is interested in what they have to say, the report is also meant for parents.

Liza Powell and Dawn Hamm, each a mother of two small children, were accustomed to taking their kids to Marie Curie Playground because it was next to PS 158. They said they had been concerned about safety on the playground because it becomes a hangout for drug users at night, but after learning of the NYPIRG report, they said they would find a new park in which her children can play.

“That’s terrible,” Powell said. “I will not come back.”

However, with a budget that he believes likely to be increased, Murphy said all necessary improvements will be made in the near future.

“I believe this time around this borough is going to have the most capital funding for parks renovations,” Murphy said. “Whatever is out there that needs work is likely to see capital dollars and will be handled.”

Reach reporter Jonathan Kay by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300.

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