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PlaygroundEquipment Blog
Monday, March 27, 2017

Lyme Disease Info and Tips

Photo by: U.S. Department of Agriculture (flickr)
Most parents and guardians already have a long mental list of things to worry about when keeping children safe. One thing that might not appear on that list, or at least not very high up on it, is tick bites. Unfortunately, in recent months there has been a significant surge of Lyme Disease, a bacterial disease carried by ticks, which can cause serious and often permanent health problems if left untreated. Experts have predicted that this trend will continue, and 2017 may be one of the worst years for the disease yet. The purpose of this blog entry is not to cause undue panic or add to anyone’s list of worries, but to spread some helpful information about Lyme Disease, how to avoid it, and how to identify an infection quickly if one occurs.

First, a personal aside: I understand that tick-borne disease isn’t most people’s favorite thing to read about, and it wouldn’t typically be my first choice for a writing topic. In fact I never thought about it, or knew about it, until a friend of mine discovered, too late, that she had been afflicted. She now has to deal with joint pain and stiffness, heart palpitations, and short-term memory loss; although her outlook remains staggeringly positive despite being unable to enjoy her previously active lifestyle, and occasionally finding familiar words missing from her vocabulary. Years passed, and we unfortunately fell out of touch. But after hearing about this year’s rise in infections I was reminded of her condition, and decided that spreading information to arm others against it was worthy of a blog entry.

Ticks come in a variety of species, all of which are potential carriers of harmful bacteria. However, Blacklegged Ticks, sometimes called Deer Ticks, are the almost exclusive carriers of Lyme Disease. Although Deer Ticks inhabit most of the eastern half of the United States, 95 % of infections occur within the northern half of that range. While residents of the northeastern quarter of the United States are by far the most at risk, others still have reason for some amount of caution. Cases have been reported nationwide and in Europe, and the disease’s territory continues to spread.

Ticks aren’t born with the bacteria which causes Lyme disease, but acquire it from rodents and birds. Only ticks that move from animal to human hosts are threats. White-footed mice are the most common transmitters, and a surge in their populations during 2016, along with the ongoing wave of unseasonably warm weather, have disease experts worried. Usually, a Deer Tick won’t have time to pass the bacteria to a human unless they’ve been attached for at least a day and a half, but unfortunately they often go undetected because they are so small and often hide in scalp, armpit, or body hair. Most infections come from immature nymphs, since they are roughly the size of poppy seeds and are active during the spring and summer months, when more people are outside. Older ticks, which grow to about 5 millimeters and can thrive during cooler months, are responsible for fewer cases.

Wooded areas with tall grass and vegetation (especially in the northeast) are natural Deer tick habitats. Anyone who visits these locations should consider taking the following precautions:
  • Wear long pants and socks that reduce your areas of exposed skin
  • Wear insect repellent
  • After returning indoors, bathe or shower as soon as possible
  • Adults should carefully inspect their hair, as well as any other potential hiding places such as behind knees and ears.
  • Children and pets who play in these areas should also be looked over.
If you find a tick on your child, pet, or self, don’t panic. Tick bites are unpleasant, but usually not dangerous. Remove the tick with tweezers, then wash the area where it was found. However, you should be on the lookout for rashes or fevers. If either develops within a few weeks of the tick’s removal, it is a good idea to see a doctor as soon as possible. Most people who are infected will first notice a characteristic rash, which appears at the site of the tick bite within a month. These can grow quite large, and after a while may develop a telltale bulls-eye shape. These rashes usually aren’t itchy or painful, which is why they often go unreported. Other early symptoms include chills, headaches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and muscle and joint aches.

Left unchecked, the rashes and joint pain will worsen, affecting more areas of the body. Other late-stage symptoms include facial palsy, headaches, short-term memory loss, heart problems, dizziness, and nerve pain. Luckily, doctors can identify the disease with a blood test, and if done quickly enough, they can then prescribe antibiotics which can completely eradicate it from a person’s body.

Learn about the author: Parker Jones
Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Seven Types of Plastic and What to Do with Them

Photo by: Lisa Risager (flickr)
Pollution is bad. Recycling is good. These are statements that most people would agree with by now. But recycling isn’t always that simple, especially when it comes to plastic. It seems like plastic is in just about everything we use these days, in one form or another. But what makes the plastic in a phone different than the plastic in a shopping bag? If they seem like entirely different materials, it’s because in many ways they are. Plastics can be mixed with different additives which change their properties. This allows them to fill a range of different purposes, but also affects how they should be used and disposed of. Some plastics cannot be recycled normally, and some can even be toxic if used improperly. It is often impossible to tell what is in a piece of plastic just by looking at it.

Luckily, the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) has devised a quick way to tell different types of plastic apart. Plastic products which can be recycled will typically have the universal recycling symbol somewhere on them. But what many people don’t notice is the small number in the middle of the three arrows. This number, ranging from 1 to 7, is called the RIC (Resin Identification Code). It tells you what group the plastic belongs to, what chemicals have been added to it, and what should be done with it. This guide should help illuminate the important differences between the seven categories of plastic.

1 – PET or PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

PET is one of the most common types of plastic, and one of the easiest to recycle. It is usually thin and transparent, which makes it good for liquid containers like plastic bottles. Well-meaning individuals may also want to reuse these products, but this should be avoided with food and drink containers. PET plastic is notorious for not only releasing carcinogens as it breaks down, but also for being easily contaminated by bacteria. Fortunately, it is highly sought after by recyclers, who shred it into fibers which can be woven into all kinds of synthetic fabric products like clothing, bags, and furniture.

Common uses: water and soda bottles, food packages, polyester fibers

Recycling: Accepted in almost any recycling bin or curbside recycling

2 – HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

HDPE is a much heavier grade of plastic than PET. While it is also sometimes used in food and drink containers, its strength and molecular stability allow it to be used in other products as well. It is one of the few types of plastic which does not break down and release toxic chemicals when exposed to water or extreme temperatures, which is why it is used for many sturdy outdoor structures like picnic tables and playgrounds. This also means it great for food containers, since it can be safely reused and microwaved. It should be recycled whenever possible, as it can easily be remade into a variety of new things.

Common uses: playground equipment, milk jugs, tupperware, detergent and cleaning product containers, plastic lumber, trash cans

Recycling: Accepted in almost any recycling bin or curbside recycling

3 – PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

Polyvinyl Chloride (which is sometimes simply referred to as vinyl, and abbreviated as ‘V’) is perhaps the most environmentally damaging type of plastic, and poses the biggest health risks if used improperly. It is full of harmful chemicals which are released as toxic fumes when it is burned, and can contaminate any food that they come in contact with. However, some companies do still use them in food packaging. Even its manufacturing process is known for releasing a large quantity of toxic byproducts. PVC products are not accepted by most recycling services. Those who are especially dedicated to the environment may be able to find a nearby industrial location to accept them, like a plastic lumber company. However, an easier way to help is to simply avoid them whenever possible.

Common uses: containers for many household products, electrical wire coating, siding, window frames, pipes

Recycling: Rarely accepted by any recycling services

4 – LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)

Low-Density Polyethylene is much cheaper, lighter, and more flexible than the high-density version. It is usually made into thin plastic sheets, like in grocery bags, although it can also be made into thicker products. All four types of plastic listed so far are commonly used in the bottles of various liquid household products (which is why the RIC number is so useful in telling them apart), but LDPE is mostly used in squeezable bottles, due to its flexibility. It is relatively toxin-free, and safe to use and reuse for food storage. Until recently LDPE was not considered recyclable, but as environmental concerns become increasingly urgent, more and more recycling centers have adapted ways to process it. Consider contacting your local recycling service to see if they accept it.

Common uses: sandwich bags, grocery bags, dry cleaning bags, squeeze bottles, carpeting

Recycling: Accepted by some, but not all, recycling services.

5 – PP (Polypropylene)

Polypropylene is a durable lightweight plastic which is prized for its impermeability to moisture and liquids. Its sturdiness and high melting point mean that it won’t release dangerous chemicals, even when heated. Like LDPE, it is just beginning to be used by recycling centers, and may or may not be accepted depending on your location.

Common uses: yogurt containers, condiment bottles, drinking straws, packing tape, diapers, plastic buckets and bottle caps

Recycling: Accepted by some, but not all, recycling services.

6 – PS (Polystyrene)

Polystyrene is most recognizable as styrofoam, but can also be molded into a more rigid plastic used in things like CD cases. Styrofoam is particularly troublesome for the environment because it does not hold in toxins well, and has a very high volume for its density. Despite being a common container for leftover or takeout food, it should never be microwaved or reheated. It is possible to recycle, but most places won’t bother with it since gathering and transporting it often wastes more resources than can be reclaimed from it anyway. However, the number of centers that will take it is steadily increasing.

Common uses: disposable cups and plates, packing peanuts, to-go boxes, meat trays, egg cartons, CD cases, pill bottles

Recycling: Occasionally accepted by specialty recycling centers

7 – Other

Yes, this one is kind of a cop-out. This category includes any plastic whose composition doesn’t fall into one of the other six categories, and even includes items which are a blend of one or more of them. ‘Other’ plastics are difficult to speak generally about, since it is such a broad category. They are usually good to avoid, since they may or may not release toxins and may or may not be recyclable. However, this category does also include newer types of plastic, including some which are plant-based and biodegradable. Determining which of these products to put in your recycling bin must be done on a case by case basis.

Common uses: nylon, sunglasses, CDs, cases for electronic devices, car parts, water coolers, bullet-proof materials

Recycling: Some products may be accepted, but usually not


Learn about the author: Parker Jones