RMA's Norberg: No link between cancer cases and crumb rubber
MONTREAL (Oct. 24, 2014) — As the debate intensifies about the potential health risks of crumb rubber, Tracey Norberg said she believes one fact often gets overlooked.
Most of the studies that have been conducted on the topic — which have concluded that crumb rubber poses no threat to humans or the environment — have been funded by government, not by the industry itself. Thus, detractors can't pass the results off as industry biased, the Rubber Manufacturers' Association senior vice president said at the 2014 Rubber Recycling Symposium in Montreal.
“The studies that say they did not identify a cancer risk are studies from bastions of conservative thought like the state of California, and these are actually helpful to us, to be able to actually say government looked at this issue,” said Ms. Norberg, who represents the tire industry before federal, state and local agencies on matters of interest.
She was speaking Oct. 22 as part of a panel discussion during the symposium, which was organized by the RMA as well as the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada.
The issue became a hot topic again earlier this month after NBC News aired the story, “How Safe Is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On?”
The piece focused on Amy Griffin, associate head coach for the women's soccer team at the University of Washington, who identified 38 U.S. soccer players who had been diagnosed with blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, including 34 goalkeepers. The story pointed out they shared one trait: They often competed on artificial turf, comprised of crumb rubber granules.
Ms. Norberg said the report did not provide any substantive facts, nor did it offer any new information.
“I think it's important to realize, when you listen to the NBC story, that they're not presenting any data; they're not presenting any scientific research; there's nothing new that is in the scientific domain on this topic,” she said.
No data to substantiate claims
Ms. Norberg said the RMA commissioned a study on the topic several years ago and made that data public by posting the research on the organization's website, www.rma.org. She said findings were last updated in August 2013.
“It's very unfortunate that the children got cancer,” she said. “We all can empathize with that based on our own experiences. It's not a fun thing to deal with, but there is no link between those cancers and this product.”
That is the same conclusion drawn by Scandinavian researchers, according to Jean-Pierre Taverne, the European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers' Association's European Union Technical coordinator, end-of-life tires.
NBC News reporter Hannah Rappleye wrote that “tiny black rubber crumbs of which the fields are made — chunks of old tires — get everywhere: in players' uniforms, in their hair, in their cleats.
“But for goalkeepers, whose bodies are in constant contact with the turf, it can be far worse,” she wrote. “In practices and games, they make hundreds of dives, and each plunge sends a black cloud of tire pellets into the air. The granules get into their cuts and scrapes, and into their mouths.”
The NBC story prompted scores of coverage from other news outlets and environmental blogs across the U.S. and abroad.
“Once that NBC news popped up, there were questions coming up from a certain number of channels from different countries in Europe,” Taverne said. “There might be a need to set up some sort of alert … some activity in terms of communication (between Europe and North American on the issue). It might be something to further work on.”
In the U.S. alone, the Synthetic Turf Council estimates that 4,500 venues, including fields, running tracks and playgrounds, have been constructed with crumb rubber.
Glenn Maidment, president of Mississauga, Ontario-based TRAC, said the industry must rally together to fight against the negative publicity.
“The concern that I have right now is, maybe this is a news cycle, and maybe tomorrow they'll go on to something else, but anecdotally, I've already heard that sports installation projects have been canceled, put aside as a result of this NBC thing,” he said.
“It seems to me the industry needs to get very, very proactive very quickly, to get good information out there so that we don't virtually stymie the whole industry. I know the [Synthetic Turf Council] is taking the lead on this, but that has to be all our concern.
“To grow these markets, we don't need this kind of negative experience.”
Norberg believes that states in the U.S. might try to establish guidelines in the future. One Congressman, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., wrote the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, requesting an official study of the potential health risks of crumb rubber in artificial athletic turf.
“It is clear that more data is needed to evaluate the risks that exist from exposure to crumb rubber in athletic turf and its effect on human health,” Mr. Pallone wrote a letter dated Oct. 10.
Still, as Ms. Norberg pointed out, in a study published late in 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found very low levels of toxic substances at four turf fields in North Carolina, Maryland, Georgia and Ohio. According to the EPA website, airborne levels of particulate matter, metals and volatile organic compounds found in those fields were on par with those found in nearby areas. Lead, zinc and particulate matter were at acceptable levels.
The EPA, however, said no more conclusions could be drawn without further study.
“We, of course, don't oppose future research,” Ms. Norberg said. “At this point, we're comfortable with crumb rubber.”
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