Only On 6: Yucky Playgrounds

Cleanliness of City Playgrounds Put to the Test
Published: Oct. 28, 2012 at 11:33 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 30, 2012 at 2:28 PM CDT
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Your children play in playgrounds all the time. They conquer the monkey bars, they race down the slide and trample in the sand. But just how clean or unclean are they? And what germs are really lurking? Newschannel 6 teamed up with Midwestern State University to take swabs from public playgrounds.

It's a child's paradise. A place they can jump around, run around and climb about and not be told to settle down. Wichita Falls is home to many playgrounds and while they might all have similar equipment the bacteria found at one is sometimes quite different at another.

Assistant Biology Professor at MSU James Masuoka went with Newschannel 6 to five parks: Kiwanis, Lake Wichita, Lucy, Scotland and Spudder.  We swabbed each play area twice.
Then took everything back to the lab so our swabs could be in perfect condition to grow.
That gave us a better understanding of what it is we might find. After a few days the results came back. They were a bit yucky.

"We got bacteria and a few fungi," said James Masuoka.

The worst offender was actually a tie. The slide at both Scotland and Kiwanis were the germiest.

"It really is alarming because the sand is clean and there's not a whole bunch of debris," said mother Kristen Burke.

"Kids come here and they're dirty and they bring their food in and their hands
are all grubby," said Mother of two Kim Woods.

Lake Wichita tested right in the middle of our findings, still compared to others the bacteria was
an eyeful.

"You can probably count a dozen or so colonies on this one [Lucy Park] and the one from Lake Wichita there's 50, 60, to 100."

We hit the road down to Luck Park a very popular play area so it should be ridden with germs right? Well not so. What we found is that Lucy Park along with Spudder had the least amount of bacteria and that could be because of fewer trees nearby and more exposure to sunlight which can kill bacteria.

"My speculation is because they're more in the open so you get more airflow through
the area higher winds, there's nothing blocking the winds," said Asst. Biology Professor, James Masuoka.

Spudder was pretty clean but instead of bacteria we found fungi. While it may look and sound bad it really poses no harm. In fact, none of the bacteria or fungi do.

"The human immune system needs challenge, needs practice, needs to know what's
out there."

Dr. Mac Fitzsimmons an allergist says children need exposure to bacteria.

"We've realized that exposure to a lot of the milder bacteria stimulate our immune defense mechanism," he said.

He said there's a well known hygiene hypothesis that says if we don't get a certain amount of exposure to mild bacteria our immune system may not be able to defend us when we come into contact with harmful bacteria.

What we found at the five city playgrounds seem to be mild bacteria, enough for a child's body to handle but not enough to keep them in bed, sick.

Newschannel 6 reached out to the Parks and Recreation Department to see if they clean playground equipment. We were told they only clean large debris from the area. Mr. Masuoka from MSU says even if they did get the surface sterile it would no longer be like that once the next kid touched it or a breeze blew in.

Below is the list of results from the testing:

Kiwanis: Ladder and Slide. Kiwanis tested at the top of the list for the most bacteria.

Lake Wichita: We tested the slide handle and seat and it tested right in the middle.

Lucy Park: We tested a swing and monkey bar handle. Lucy had the least amount of germs along with Spudder Park.

Scotland Park: Scotland was one of the germiest. We tested the Tic Tac Toe play area and the yellow slide.

Spudder Park: Spudder had one of the least amount of germs but we found Fungi. We tested the monkey bars and climbing bars.

Crystal Hall Newschannel 6.