According to EPA documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, the environmental agency admits that more research is needed on the safety of the millions of pounds of tires that are recycled into ground rubber, called tire crumb.
A January 2008 memo to EPA Headquarters from the Denver office states that EPA Region 8 has identified potential hazards to children playing on surfaces made of tire crumb that include toxics entering the lungs from particulates, fibers, volatile organic compounds and latex.
Toxics ingested by children at play may include heavy metals and dyes, the memo indicates.
"It appears that there are valid reasons to take a broader perspective of all potential risks associated with crumb rubber" through an extensive study, said the memo from Assistant Regional Administrator Stephen Tuber.
“Kids roll around in this stuff, put it into their mouths and rub it into their skin and hair,” saidd PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that tire crumbs are often painted in bright colors enticing to very young children.
Tire crumb cushions the Obamas White House playground. (Photo by Rubber Mulch)
“Despite the growing concerns of its own scientists, EPA has issued no public statement of caution and still promotes tire crumbs in playgrounds," Ruch said.
Both EPA and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have endorsed the use of tire crumb for years but neither agency ever investigated the potential toxicity to children from direct contact with tire ingredients, such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury and a number of dangerous hydrocarbons, said Ruch.
"Despite these huge knowledge gaps, both agencies still endorse use of tire crumb, which is increasingly being marketed for backyard use," he said.
PEER is asking EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to revoke the EPA's endorsement of tire crumb until the research has concluded that it is safe for children and issue an interim public health advisory.
Jackson is also urged to outline a coordinated approach, working with other agencies, for assessing risk.
"If Ms. Jackson does not respond, PEER will ask the appropriations panels handling the EPA budget to mandate these actions," Ruch said.
On the other hand, an assessment of the potential release of chemicals in crumb rubber to the environment issued Friday by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York Department of Health found "no significant threat" from chemicals leaching into surface water and groundwater.
State scientists conducted lab tests on crumb rubber samples obtained from manufacturers and conducted tests at synthetic fields.
They tested for leaching, exposure to acid rain and acid digestion, exposed samples to a range of temperatures to observe impacts, assessed chemical particle sizes for their potential to move through soil and air, collected soil samples at wells down-gradient from existing synthetic turf fields and measured air samples upwind and downwind of such fields.
"While some chemicals can be released from crumb rubber over time, they are in small concentrations and are reduced by absorption, degradation and dilution - resulting in no significant impact on groundwater or surface water," the state agencies said.
The New York study only addressed the crumb rubber infill and did not address pigments used in synthetic turf fibers that in older applications are known to contain lead.
Lead concentrations in crumb rubber are well below federal hazard standards for lead in soil and do not represent a significant source of lead exposure, the study determined.
Levels of chemicals in the air at synthetic turf fields do not raise a significant health concern, the New York agencies reported.
Heat effects are of concern, the study found. Synthetic turf fields can have higher surface temperatures compared to nearby grass and sand fields, although factors of heat stress did not differ noticeably among surfaces. Still, the study notes that prolonged contact with hotter surfaces has the potential to create discomfort, cause thermal injury and contribute to heat-related illness.
“This report provides compelling new scientific evidence about the safety of synthetic turf that should help answer the responsible questions being asked by parents, legislators and community activists,” said Rick Doyle, president of the Synthetic Turf Council. “Increased playability, safety, low maintenance and significant environmental benefits have made synthetic turf an increasingly popular option.”
The study is available at the bottom of the DEC's Waste Tire website. For more information about crumb-rubber infilled fields, see the Department of Health fact sheet.
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