Following increasing concerns about the safety of recycled tire material used on synthetic turf fields, the Obama administration has announced a federal study to look into potential health risks.
The material in question — crumb-rubber infill — has been a source of debate across the country since late 2014, when parents and health and environment advocates began demanding studies about whether repeated contact with the material could cause cancer. That’s when a University of Washington soccer coach came forward with a list of a few dozen young athletes with cancer who regularly played on surfaces where tire pieces have been spread thickly to provide cushion and tracton. The pieces often end up in the mouths, ears and clothing of athletes.
The list of cancer-stricken players now incudes more than 200 athletes across the country who play a variety of sports on turf fields, including football and field hockey. Half of the ill athletes on the list are soccer goalies under age 35 whose position requires them to do a lot of diving into the turf fields.
The Synthetic Turf Council said in a statement last Friday that it hoped the new study would “settle this matter once and for all.'”
“We have consistently said that we support all additional research,” the group said in the statement. “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.”
In the past, The Synthetic Turf Council has refuted the claims linking crumb-rubber infill to cancer. The group has also advocated for more research on the links between cancer and crumb-rubber infill.
“Parents and athletes of all ages want and deserve conclusive answers on whether exposure to crumb rubber turf can make one sick,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who urged President Obama in a letter last month to authorize the study. “Combining the resources and expertise of three federal agencies to help find those answers is the right thing to do.”
The three agencies that will carry out the study are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The study will include a technical team of almost 50 federal employees and a research budget of $2 million.
The agencies expect to release a draft report of findings and conclusions by the end of the year.
After conducting a study in 2009 that is often cited by industry groups as validating the safety of crumb rubber, the agency at first found the material posed “low levels of concern.” The EPA later backtracked and said the study was limited in scope, and that no conclusions should be drawn by it.
Amid growing concern over the past year, the EPA said it would not conduct another study and instead said it was up to states to conduct their own research. The’s EPA’s hands-off approach comes after the agency spent years marketing crumb rubber for sports fields and playgrounds as a means of reducing the nation’s stockpile of waste tires, according to The Orange County (California) Register.
Then came the announcement that the EPA would participate in a new study.