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Safety of Crumb Rubber on Playgrounds Now Under Investigation

The Short of It

Studies have shown a link between the crumb rubber used on playgrounds and health issues, but after years of parents and scientists voicing concerns, federal agencies plan to take a closer look.

The Lowdown

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are officially investigating concerns over the safety of crumb rubber, which is material made from recycled tire parts that is used on numerous playing fields and playgrounds across the country.

Evidence against the safety of the turf includes:

  • A recent Yale study thatfound the chemicals in the rubbermay pose safety hazards.
  • A coach at the University of Washington pointing to cases of young players across the U.S. that have beendiagnosed with cancer, especially goalies who dive into the crumb rubber often.

For its part, the synthetic turf industry maintains the product is safe. But one industry group, the Synthetic Turf Council, said it supports the federal investigation. Its statement said in part, "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. We hope the federal government's involvement, which we have been encouraging for years, will settle this matter once and for all, put parents' minds at ease, and validate past and recent due diligence by public officials."

According to NBC News, the agencies' announcement said while "limited studies" to date haven't shown a danger, research doesn't yet "comprehensively evaluate the concerns about health risks from exposure to tire crumb."

Explains Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., "Parents and athletes of all ages want and deserve conclusive answers on whether exposure to crumb rubber turf can make one sick. Combining the resources and expertise of three federal agencies to help find those answers is the right thing to do."

Researchers plan to test samples of the rubber for chemicals that may be linked to health problems, although it may be challenging to definitively say the surface material causes cancer or other issues.

The Upshot

Many cities applaud the Obama administration's decision to take a closer look at the crumbs that kids may unwillingly ingest or come in contact with via their skin or eyes, including San Francisco. But at least one Bay Area longtime soccer player, Ben Moreno, told SF Gate that he wouldn't allow the concerns to keep him from playing: "I think about it. But I don't worry."

In Hartford, Conn., mom and research scientist Sarah Evans told the CT Post, "We know enough about what they are made of to say that children shouldn't play on them." The community there is considering a full ban on crumb rubber.

In the meantime, those communities and many others will be eagerly awaiting the results of the federal investigation.

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