Athletic Playing Fields: How Safe Is Artificial Turf? Crumb Rubber?


Feds (EPA) Won’t Say Whether Artificial Turf on Your Kid’s Soccer Fields and Football Fields Are Safe; So Why Are Parks and Schools Using Kids As Guinea Pigs?

Could the material used to make artificial turf be harmful? And is there a real danger to kid athletes across America? NBC News investigates.

The Current State of Hazard Awareness
In October 2015, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency would not answer a direct on-camera question from NBC about whether the surface with crumb rubber infill found on playgrounds and athletic fields across the country is safe for children.

Currently studies have showed no correlation of cancer risk with artificial turf and crumb rubber. However, studies have primarily focused on inhalation, and not ingestion or abrasive contact. Dr. Joel Forman, a Mount Sinai Hospital pediatrician explains in the NBC video above that in general it’s very difficult to study a relationship of an environmental exposure and cancer.

On several athletic fields locally and nationwide, artificial turf with fake dirt called crumb rubber has replaced many grass fields.

Athletic field managers are choosing the artificial turf because lower maintenance, lower maintenance, and less need for water. The field are also touted to have consistent shock absorbance capability compared to grass fields that can prevent sports injuries — especially lower extremity injuries.

Locally, artificial turf is installed at John Hersey High School, Melas Park, and has recently been approved by the Arlington Heights Park District at the Sunset Meadows athletic field at a cost of $2.1 million. Artificial turf is also installed at other District 214 high schools. The Arlington Heights Park District — on official pages describing their John Hersey High School artificial turf cooperative project, and their Melas Park artificial turf cooperative project — does not mention what type of infill is used. Some organizations, in an abundance of caution, have chosen alternatives to crumb rubber, such as organic infill made of cork, and rice and coconut husk. Cork, rice and coconut husk are probably the safest alternatives because of their lack of aromatic hydrocarbons (suspected carcinogens).

District 214 could not immediately confirm the type of infill used on their artificial turf fields, but reported a response would be forthcoming as soon as possible. Arlington Heights Park District did not immediately return a phone call.

According to a 2012 bid for Melas Park Field Improvements, FieldTurf was selected as the synthetic turf manufacturer and installer. According to FieldTurf, the potential for adverse human health effects from the use of recycled tires in synthetic turf surfaces was tested. FieldTurf consulted leading, FIFA certified, testing agency Labosport to conduct toxicological analyses of the materials used in its turf system. Labosport conducted “Toxicological Analysis of performance infill for synthetic turf fields according to EN 71-3 standard – Safety of toys Part 3: Migration of certain elements.”

Labosport tested for Aluminium, Antimony, Arsenic, Barium, Boron, Cadmium, Chromium, Cobalt, Copper, Lead, Manganese, Mercury, Nickel, Selenium, Strontium, Tin and Zinc; and Chromium (III) and Chromium (VI).

The test apparently did NOT study the presence of carcinogens (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons).

Labosport tested the following 5 different FieldTurf infill materials:

Cork – A natural organic infill option that is harvested from the cork oak trees.

Crumb Rubber – A derivative of recycled tires. The specific rubber tested was cryogenically processed.

EcoMax – An extruded composite of recycled turf and thermoplastic elastomer (TPE).

TPE – A manufactured thermoplastic elastomer (TPE).

Nike Grind – Made from recycled athletic shoes and Nike manufacturing material, these reclaimed materials are ground-up to create an infill material.

According to FieldTurf, the results of the testing confirm that Cork, Crumb Rubber, EcoMax, Nike Grind and TPE all meet or pass the stringent EN 71-3 criteria for all heavy metals, including lead (unit of measure: mg/kg MS):

Crumb Rubber 1.15 mg/kg MS
TPE 0.5 mg/kg MS
Nike Grind 1.94 mg/kg MS
Cork and EcoMax were not detectable (0.5 mg/kg MS)

KCET SoCal Connected: How Safe is Your Child’s Sports Field?

Suspected Risks
Crumb rubber, which comes from a variety of recycled tire sources, is suspected as a possible cancer risk because of awareness of cluster cases of cancers — especially among youth soccer goalies. Soccer coach Amy Griffin at University of Washington collected a list of athletes — most of them soccer goalies — who played on crumb rubber turf and have been diagnosed with various forms of cancer. On October 1, 2015 the list was up to 63 athletes — most with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

The recycled tire material is also suspect because of its uncontrolled chemical makeup. Currently, no regulations control the material sources of crumb rubber. Shredded car and truck tires, are made of dangerous chemicals that are ground up to perform like shock absorbing dirt, but pellets are stirred up and made airborne when an athlete impacts the ground. The airborne crumb rubber can be inhaled, ingested and ground into skin with abrasions. Some of these chemicals can be vaporized and spread through the air.

Crumb rubber can contain the following potential hazardous materials and environments (depending on tire sources and manufacturing process) …

Toxic Metals including zinc, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and chromium.

Carcinogens including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and butadiene. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are known to cause cancer in humans and are among the carcinogenic agents in tobacco smoke, vehicle exhaust, and industrial pollution.

Latex and other rubber, which can cause allergic reactions among susceptible individuals.

Phthalates, which can harm organs, present a greater risk to children compared to adults. Phthalates are suspected endocrine disruptors in humans, which raises concern of developmental and reproductive toxicity.

Aliphatic compounds (non-aromatic compounds) pose a risk for skin, eye, and respiratory irritation.

Heat stress on the field on hot weather days is considerably higher on artificial fields compared to natural grass field — sometimes as much as 40°F higher. One parent describes going through three pairs of shoes in a season because of melting shoe glue.

Environment and Human Health, Inc. has listed the following summary of toxic actions of recycled crumb rubber:

Severe irritation of the respiratory system
Severe irritation of the eyes, skin and mucous membranes
Systemic effects on the liver and kidneys
Neurotoxic responses
Allergic reactions
Developmental effects

Exposure risk includes inhalation, ingestion and skin contact — especially with bleeding abrasions. Crumb rubber can be collected accidentally adhering to skin, hair, clothing, socks and shoes, and other personal items, and transferred to living spaces at homes and apartments.

Halted Installations
Several organizations have halted the installation of artificial turf fields with crumb rubber.

Seminole County (Florida) in October 2015 has halted installing artificial turf on seven athletic fields at the county’s new sports complex regarding health concerns about crumb rubber.

Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien, Washington halted plans to install artificial turf with crumb rubber in October 2014.

The City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Park halted all crumb rubber installations.

The Los Angeles Unified School District also phased out the use of crumb rubber and has switched to virgin rubber and cork.

See also …


Arlington Heights Park District Bid Form [PDF]

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