Whether a man-made material used for athletic fields and playgrounds is safe for athletes and children is under the microscope after being targeted by critics for years.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., is calling on the federal government to conduct an independent study on the use of crumb rubber on athletic fields and playgrounds after a series of reports and complaints called into question whether the man-made material was a pathway to exposure to one or more carcinogens.
Many argue the health effects of crumb rubber, which currently is used in more than 11,000 synthetic turf sports fields in the U.S. and in children's playgrounds across the country, have not been adequately tested to ensure that it is safe for long-term exposure. One soccer coach has documented 69 cases of former soccer players diagnosed with cancer.
Here in Connecticut, the Department of Public Health has deemed its use safe and thousands of kids play on crumb rubber surfaces at high schools and playgrounds across the state.
But without a definitive scientific study determining its safety, experts are divided on its use and concerned parents rightfully are worried. Some municipalities have taken matters into their own hands — such as Ridgefield, which has posted health safety warning signs at its two athletic fields.
Crumb rubber made its debut as a synthetic turf for professional sports in the early 2000s, the successor to previous forms that athletes complained did nothing to protect them from hard landings. The new turf was made up of tiny, black crumbs made from pulverized car tires, among other materials. It provided a cushion upon impact for athletes and helped minimize serious injuries such as concussions.
But cries for federal authorities to take a closer look at the potential hazards have been mushrooming after many athletes who played extensively on synthetic fields were diagnosed with cancer. The controversy picked up steam after Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy refused to answer a reporter's question as to whether the synthetic turf was safe for children.
No study links crumb rubber to cancer, but a study by Yale University found crumb rubber pieces contain 96 different chemicals, and 20 percent of the toxic chemicals present were carcinogens. And that is spreading fear through parents who say the tiny rubber crumbs get everywhere — in player's uniforms, hair and cleats. And every time a player slams onto the turf, a black cloud of tire pellets shoot into the air and the granules get into their cuts and scrapes, and into their mouths.
The Synthetic Turf Council argues on its website there is no evidence to support claims that synthetic turf is unsafe. But an in-depth study free from special interests is needed to ensure athletes and children are not playing now to pay later. When the head of EPA refuses to go on record and validate a product's safety to the American people, that should make everyone sit up and take notice. We certainly did — and so should the federal government.