WASHINGTONThe battle over the use of synthetic turf made with crumb rubber from recycled tires is heating up again, thanks to an updated NBC News report on the material's alleged health hazardsespecially its use on athletic fields.
The latest report, which followed by almost a year the network's first investigation of the subject, drew the predictable range of comment both for and against the product.
However, both sides agreed on one thing: further studyespecially from government agenciesis needed to settle the question of the safety of synthetic turf.
As the NBC report acknowledges, a wide range of studies of crumb rubber on athletic fields and playgrounds shows no link between the product and any health hazard.
However, those who question the safety of synthetic turf feel the current scientific literature is inadequate, and those who promote the product seek to reinforce the studies that point to the safety of crumb rubber.
Our industry is supportive of any new studies, said Terry Leveille, president of TL & Associates in Sacramento, Calif., and legislative representative for the California Tire Dealers Association (CTDA).
Mr. Leveille and the CTDA were instrumental in the defeat last year of a bill that would have created a moratorium on any schools or municipalities installing crumb rubber athletic fields or playgrounds, or allowing the California Department of Resources Recovery and Recycling (CalRecycle) to give any grants or rebates to synthetic turf producers or users.
However, the part of the bill the CTDA did supporta study to expand the analysis of the potential human health effects of scrap tires used in playground surfacing and synthetic turfcame to fruition with a contract between CalRecycle and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA).
The contract for the three-year, $2.86 million study was signed in June 2015. Under its terms, CalRecycle will pay OEHHA to perform the study, which will culminate in a report scheduled for release in June 2018.
The two-part NBC Nightly News report, which aired Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, mentions the California study, but asks why federal agencies aren't studying synthetic turf as well.
In the report, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy declined comment on camera when NBC reporters asked her about synthetic turf. The EPA conducted a 2008 study that found a number of toxic compounds in synthetic turf but found no evidence that they leached into the soil or water.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) also has studied synthetic turf but found no link between crumb rubber and disease. On Oct. 2 CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye issued a statement citing the California study and promising his agency would do all it could to find the answers about synthetic turf.
As long as I am chairman, CPSC will continue to work closely with our federal and state partners toward ending the uncertainty surrounding crumb rubber, Chairman Kaye said.
As the science around chronic exposure to chemicals often does not provide as much clarity as we all wish it would, I cannot guarantee a clear answer will emerge, he continued. I can only guarantee we will keep working at it with our federal and state partners.
The NBC Nightly News report was a follow-up to a story from 2014 centering on Amy Griffin, women's soccer coach at the University of Washington.
In the earlier report, Ms. Griffin said she had discovered 38 cases of young soccer players34 of them goalkeeperswho had developed various forms of cancer.
In the new report, Ms. Griffin said that largely through parents who had contacted her, the cases she found of cancer among young goalies had increased to 63. Fifteen of the victims have died, she said.
Among the organizations that raise questions about the safety of artificial turf is the Oakland, Calif.-based Center for Environmental Health (CEH), which has posted on its website a fact sheet noting that crumb rubber contains toxins such as benzothiazole and carbon black, and can reach 200 F on a 98-degree day.
The organization recommends limiting play time on crumb rubber on hot days; making sure all crumbs of rubber are removed from bodies, clothing and equipment after play; washing hands thoroughly before eating; and never eating or lying down on a crumb rubber synthetic field.
The CEH also points to a recent Italian study of synthetic turf fields published in the journal Environmental & Analytical Toxicology.
The aim of this study was to estimate the 'hazard' for athletes inhaling PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) released at the high temperatures this synthetic turf may reach, the study's abstract said.
The toxicity equivalents (TEQ) of evaporates from rubber crumb is not negligible and represents a major contribution to the total daily intake of PAHs by different routes, it said.
On the other side, organizations such as the Recycled Rubber Council (RRC) and the Safe Fields Alliance (SFA) defended synthetic turf from accusations of toxicity.
Recycled rubber used in synthetic turf fields and other products is safe and does not cause cancer, the New York-based RRC said in an Oct. 5 statement.
Rubber has been an everyday part of life in America for more than 170 years, and to claim that it suddenly poses a health risk is simply false, the RRC said.
As an industry, we unequivocally stand behind these products, and we would not put our children or grandchildren on fields or playgrounds with crumb rubber if they were hazardous.
Also based in New York, the SFA said it supported any and all third-party studies of synthetic turf.
In our view, scientific studies analyzed by independent third parties that hold up under peer review from qualified toxicologists are the best antidote for uncertainty, the SFA said.
More research can always be done, and we are willing to support any additional scientific studies in any way we can, it said. However, it should be pointed out that over a decade of research has not produced a single published, peer-reviewed study that shows that crumb rubber is unsafe.
The study the OEHHA is performing for CalRecycle is the third such research on crumb rubber athletic turf that the office has performedthe first two appearing in 2007 and 2010, according to the OEHHA website.
The current study, according to that website, consists of five tasks:
1. Expert and stakeholder input and consultation;
2. Hazard identification;
3. Exposure scenario development;
4. Sampling and analysis of new and in-field synthetic turf; and
5. Biomonitoring study protocol development.
The OEHHA will review the scientific literature to date on chemicals that might be released from synthetic turf products, the website said.
The agency also will spend a major part of the study analyzing chemicals released from new, uninstalled and in-use crumb rubber and synthetic grass blades from both indoor and outdoor turf, it said.
Making use of the toxicity criteria, monitoring data and exposure pattern analysis results obtained in the study, OEHHA will conduct an assessment of potential health impacts associated with use of synthetic turf and playground mats, the agency said.
Before the assessment is finished, OEHHA will hold workshops to elicit public comment, and the assessment will also undergo review by a panel of scientific experts, it said.
As part of the first stage of the study, CalRecycle and the OEHHA will hold three synthetic turf study workshops during November. They will be held in San Diego from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 2; in San Diego from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 12; and as a webinar transmitted from Sacramento from 1 to 4 p.m. on Nov. 16.
More information on the workshops is available on CalRecycle's website at www.calrecycle.ca.gov/.
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