Federal Probe Studies Tire Crumb Risks

Third in Series

Three federal agencies are studying the po­tential health risks associated with recycled tire crumb rubber used in synthetic playing fields like those in Chapel Hill and Durham and playgrounds, with a draft report due by the end of the year.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Pre­vention/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the U.S. Con­su­mer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched a multi-agency action plan Feb. 12 to study key environmental human health questions.

The federal “action plan” was announced after concerns were raised about the safety of recycled tire crumb used in playing fields in the U.S (CSN, Feb 2016). Limited studies have not shown an elevated health risk from playing on fields with tire crumb, but the existing studies do not comprehensively evaluate the concerns about health risks from exposure to tire crumb.

A November 2015 ESPN E-60 report by Julie Foudy brought national attention to the issue when she reported on Washington Uni­ver­sity Soccer Coach Amy Griffin’s Cancer List (athletes with cancer who played on artificial turf fields with tire crumbs, CSN, Jan 2016). The list had grown to 203 athletes by January. Over 60 percent had blood cancers; many of the players were goalies.

According to EPA spokesperson Laura Allen the study will include a technical team of al­most 50 federal employees as well as a $2 million budget. As this rubber crumb turf is commonly used nationwide in fields and playing areas for kids, it’s important to determine whe­ther this material is harmful to people or not.

“Once we better understand what chemicals are in tire crumb, we will also be able to search existing databases of information to understand the potential health effects of those chemicals,” the agencies said.

The feds plan to reach out to athletes, coaches, parents and others seeking public comments. For example, ATSDR is taking comments on crumb rubber infill (0923-16PJ) until midnight April 18 at regulations.gov website.

CPSC Chair Elliott Kaye said the agencies are working together “to end the uncertainty regarding whether it is safe for our children to play on fields and playgrounds that use crumb rubber and provide guidance that is clear, practical and reliable.”

According to the EPA website, “The studies will determine key knowledge gaps; identify and characterize the chemical compounds found in tire crumb; characterize how people are exposed to these compounds based on their activities on playgrounds and athletic fields; and identify follow-up activities that could be conducted to provide additional insights into possible risks.”

Large studies are also under way or planned in Ireland and California. An article in Feb. 18 Pitchcare (UK) magazine noted, “Over forty of the US states, and the HSE (Health & Safe­ty Executive) here in the UK, have banned the disposal of tyres into landfill because, in part, of their toxicity.

But, as one observer added; ‘a crumbled tyre is still a tyre and remains toxic, regardless of where you put it’.” Headline for story was “Rubber crumb—is it the new asbestos?”

Joel Bulkley

See also: “Cautious Support From Rec Leaders For Tire Crumb Fields” by Bob Conroy (CSN March 2016)

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