July 24, 2008 -- Every summer, dozens of children across the country end up in the emergency room with serious burns because of overheated playground equipment.
Kids and parents who have spent any time on a playground during the hottest months know how hot it can feel, but the actual temperature of the equipment is startling.
In one unusual case, an Arlington, Texas, playground burst into flame last summer when overheated wood chips spontaneously combusted.
In a more common scenario, Reyhan Meharn, a New York mother, watched her son Kian suffer in a burn center for days after he stepped with bare feet onto a black rubber mat at a city playground.
"I don't think most people would think that that was one of the greatest burn hazards in a public playground," Meharn said of the rubber mat.
The rubber mats used in many playgrounds are supposed to be win-win. They're made of recycled tires and they provide padding in case of a fall. But a New York City parents' group says they absorb heat, often topping out at over 160 degrees in the summer.
"Parents have absolutely no idea how hot these surfaces get," said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, a group that is trying to get the city's Parks Department to remove the rubber mats from playgrounds.
What's the Hottest Surface?
"Good Morning America" teamed up with the Montgomery County, Md., Fire and Rescue Squad to test playground surfaces.
We first thought the slide glinting in the sun would be the hottest. The thermometer reading was 126 degrees. Paramedics say human skin begins to burn at 124 degrees.
"That's enough to give you a first- or second-degree burn, especially if you are a younger child," said Pete Piringer, a spokesperson for the fire and rescue team.
We tested the blacktop and found that it was 132 degrees -- hotter than the slide.
"Black or dark [surfaces] will retain that heat much more," Piringer said.
We checked the rubber padding at the playground almost as an afterthought.
"This surfacing, people might not think about, it's here for protection, padding," Piringer said. "This is also a recycled rubber material so I think it would retain a lot of heat."
He was right. At 142 degrees, the padding was about the same temperature as a cup of hot coffee.
How Can Parents Protect Their Kids?
Touch surfaces yourself first.
Children should always wear shoes.
If you build a play structure in your own back yard, choose a shady spot and look for light-colored materials that won't heat up as much.