A new study shows that ground rubber found in sports fields and playgrounds often contains cancer-causing chemicals.
The so-called “crumb-rubber” — recycled tires that are crushed to bits — is used as padding in synthetic turf fields and in some playgrounds all over Northeast Ohio.
The study was commissioned by Nancy Alderman’s organization called Environment and Human Health. When asked if she would allow her children to play on the synthetic turf, Alderman said “never, absolutely never.”
Dr. Gaboury Benoit, a Yale University professor of environmental chemistry and engineering, was the study’s lead investigator.
“There’s 100 compounds. Only 50 of which have been evaluated in terms of their toxicity. Of those, most of them are carcinogens or irritants. As a parent, I just don’t want to expose my kids to carcinogens and irritants any more than I have to,” he said.
The study found 96 chemicals in 14 samples. Of the 96 chemicals detected, 47 chemicals (49 percent) had no toxicity assessments done on them for their health effects. Of the 96 chemicals detected, 49 chemicals (51 percent) have had some toxicity testing done, but even many of those had incomplete toxicity testing and therefore all health effects are not fully known. Of the 49 chemicals tested, 10 or 20 percent are probable carcinogens.
Researchers also found 40 percent of the chemicals are known irritants, including 12 or 24 percent which are respiratory irritants. Some can cause asthma.
“It’s an irresponsible experiment in whole generations of children,” said Alderman.
“The shredded tires contain a veritable witches’ brew of toxic substances,” Dr. Benoit told the Investigator Tom Meyer.
Alderman says she now knows of 124 soccer players with cancer. She said the majority (85 players) are goalies, who do more diving on the ground than other players. All 124 played on synthetic turf fields. She said the troubling data has been collected by Amy Griffin, the associate head soccer coach at the University of Washington.
Manufacturers have long argued the fake grass fields with ground rubber are safe. They point to more than a dozen studies backing up their claim. School districts like the fact that the artificial turf fields can withstand heavy use and they’re less expensive to maintain than grass. Dr. Benoit disagrees with the cost-savings argument, and argues that safety should always come first.
“Tires are a hazardous waste, and I find it surprising that if we have them converted into a consumer product, they’re no longer considered a hazardous waste,” said Dr. Benoit.
Solon recently replaced its artificial turf at a cost of about $400,000. The district’s superintendent, Joseph Regano, believes he’s not putting his student-athletes at risk by having them play on the synthetic turf.
He says there are studies on each side and they’re all over the map. But he is urging the government or some health authority like the Cleveland Clinic to conduct a study that would lead his district and others in the right direction.
“If there was something definitive that this is going to hurt people, no matter what investment we have n the field, the field would go. You can’t put anyone in that kind of jeopardy,” Regano said.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the federal EPA both conducted studies of artificial turf about five years ago and essentially gave kids the green light to play on them. But both agencies now say their studies were limited and in need of further research.
Neither agency is planning to conduct any additional testing.