In November 2015, four members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote the EPA with 10 questions about what the agency knows about possible connections between rubber athletic turf and cancer.
This was followed in January 2016 by a letter from Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to President Obama, asking for a comprehensive federal study of rubber athletic turf.
According to the action plan posted on the EPA website, the objectives of the research are:
- To determine key knowledge gaps;
- To identify and characterize the chemical compounds found in tire crumb;
- To characterize how people are exposed to these compounds based on their activities on playgrounds and athletic fields; and
- To identify follow-up activities that could be conducted to provide additional insights into possible risks.
The three agencies will evaluate the existing scientific data related to rubber athletic turf, and also conduct outreach to stakeholders, including athletes, parents, coaches, government agencies and industry representatives, according to the action plan.
Tire crumb testing will include the evaluation of various manufacturing processes; laboratory analyses to characterize chemical components in newer and older tire crumb at different temperatures; determination of how quickly tire crumb components are absorbed by the body; and evaluation of potential cancer and non-cancer toxicity of tire crumb constituents based on existing information databases.
After the tire crumb testing, the agencies will launch a pilot-scale study to characterize exposure under use conditions, according to the action plan.
Scientists will identify various exposure scenarios, and design and conduct the pilot study based on those scenarios, the action plan said. The study will consider possible methods of exposure to tire crumb, including breathing, accidental ingestion and physical contact.
Reaction to the research study was universally positive among stakeholders.
“The tire manufacturing industry is committed to safety and to sound environmental stewardship relating to our products at every stage, including end-of-life use,” said the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) in a statement. “RMA and its members welcome additional scientific derived from scrap tires, as well as other materials that may be added to crumb rubber used in scrap tire market applications.”
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), which earlier urged the EPA to defend rubber athletic turf against its detractors, said the multi-agency study is a positive development.
“ISRI plans to engage, as appropriate, with these agencies and other stakeholders to assist in whatever way possible,” said Mark Reiter, ISRI vice president of government relations. “We are hopeful that the federal government's involvement will give parents and other stakeholders additional peace of mind that children and athletes alike can safely play on these surfaces.”
The Synthetic Turf Council (STC) also said it welcomed the multi-agency project and looked forward to participating in it.
“We have consistently said that we support all additional research,” the STC said. “At the same time, we strongly reaffirm that the existing studies clearly show that artificial turf fields and playgrounds with crumb rubber infill are safe and have no link to any health issues.”
However, Caroline Cox, research director for the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), noted the wide variety of toxic chemicals in crumb rubber. The CEH voiced concerns about rubber athletic turf several years before the NBC News reports.
“We appreciate the government's decision to study the issues, but in the meantime parents should know that if their kids play on these fields, they can take straightforward steps to minimize exposures,” Ms. Cox said.
Among Ms. Cox's recommendations were:
- Avoiding crumb rubber fields on hot days;
- Removing all crumb rubber pellets from students' clothing, bodes and equipment after playing;
- Making sure student athletes wash their hands thoroughly after playing and not eat on the field; and
- Encouraging schools and parks to use other infill materials, such as cork and coconut husks.
More information on the study, with periodic updates, can be found by clicking here.
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