Last month a leading playground equipment manufacturer, BigToys, Inc. (www.bigtoys.com) announced that it had eliminated PVC plastic from its product line and is urging other manufacturers to follow suit. BigToys President Tim Madeley began working for the company as a teenager in 1978. He bought the firm last year. Here he discusses his approach to eliminating both PVC and arsenic treated wood from his product line.
HBN: First, tell us a about BigToys, Inc.
Madeley: For 35 years we have been a leading manufacturer of high quality commercial playground equipment for schools, parks and day care centers. We do business throughout North America. We pride ourselves on doing our best to benefit the children who use our products, as I believe most of my competitors do as well. That's why I hope the whole playground equipment industry moves away from PVC just as they did CCA treated wood.
HBN: How did you learn about the PVC issue?
Madeley: From your website. Because we used to use CCA treated wood in our structures, I check your website for updates on that issue. That's where I first learned about the environmental health impacts of PVC. My follow-up research confirmed your reports.
HBN: You're not the first executive from a playground equipment manufacturer with whom we've spoken. But you are the first one who has had nice things to say to us after our campaign to halt the use of arsenic treated wood for playgrounds.
Madeley: I found your website to be an objective source of information on the treatment issue, which I knew quite a bit about. Before switching to treated lumber in 1980, we submitted samples to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for evaluation, and didn't begin using CCA until they recommended it as a good alternative to naturally rot resistant wood such as Cedar. So we were not defensive about our choices. The information that started coming out in the late 90's invalidated the CPSC's assurances in the eyes of our customers, and launched us on a search for alternatives. By mid-September 2001 we had completely switched to an arsenic-free copper azole formula, well before production was restricted.
HBN: Did your experience with arsenic treated wood inform your decision to stop using PVC?
Madeley: Definitely. The market rejection of CCA overtook us even though we had gone the extra mile to assure children's safety and consumer confidence. So while I don't see evidence that children are endangered by the phthalate plasticizers in the PVC playground equipment, as opposed to say teethers, I think it is enough to know that the plasticizers unique to PVC can cause damage to the liver, kidney and reproductive system. When it comes to children's health, you don't take a wait and see approach. You take precautions. If you know you can avoid problems altogether, you should. An informed comparison of alternatives also makes one aware of larger environmental benefits. The polyethylene and steel components we now use contain recycled content and are themselves recyclable.
HBN: So you are not simply motivated by trying to avoid some future liability, or caving in to single issue pressure groups?
Madeley: We are not playing defense. You called us about CCA lumber, but I called you about PVC. Our move to CCA alternatives and now our move to being PVC-free are forward looking moves that we made without hesitation or regret. I'm motivated by a personal moral responsibility to children, and a professional obligation as an industry leader.
HBN. That's leadership.
Chemical Security Update
Our April 5, 2004 newsletter made the case that the transport and storage of chlorine gas, most of which is used to manufacture PVC, poses a grave homeland security risk. This week the House Judiciary Committee authorized a bill giving the Department of Homeland Security authority to re-route shipments of chlorine and other extremely hazardous materials (EHMs) around areas of "concern," which would include cities such as Washington, D.C. The Senate may vote as early as this Friday, October 1 on similar legisltation authored by Sen. John Corzine (D-NJ).
 Copper Chormated Arsenic (CCA) was the dominant chemical treatment for "pressure treated wood" until its manufacture was voluntarily restricted as of January, 2004. For more information see: "Pressure-Treated Wood"