The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) abruptly halted its review of the potential toxicity of crumb rubber used in artificial turf playgrounds on Nov. 2 without explanation. This action follows public statements made by CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye in October that the commission would continue its review with partner agencies, which include California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), which has received funding from the state to conduct a study of the potential toxicity of crumb rubber.
“As long as I am Chairman, CPSC will continue to work closely with our federal and state partners toward ending the uncertainty surround-ing crumb rubber. California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is planning to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of crumb rubber, and CPSC staff will provide the state with technical assistance. This will be a new and important study into human exposure and the impact on human health from crumb rubber,” Kaye said.
“As the science around chronic exposure to chemicals often does not provide as much clarity as we all wish it would, I cannot guarantee a clear answer will emerge. I can only guarantee we will keep working at it with our federal and state partners. Developing the science will also unfortunately take time. Progress will remain slow until Congress finally treats the potential exposure of our children to harmful chemicals as the public health priority that it should be,” Chairman Kaye said in a public statement on October 2.
The agency’s about face was roundly criticized by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an organization that contends the agency “has been unable to supply a cogent explanation for this action.”
PEER contends that crumb rubber found in children’s playgrounds made with shredded tires often exceed CPSC’s limit of 100 parts per million lead, and are not regularly tested for compliance.
Both the U.S. EPA and CPSC have recently dropped their “Safe to Play On” endorsements of artificial turf as questions about the potential toxicity of crumb rubber have been raised. In congressional testimony, Chairman Kaye also stated that its previous endorsement did not “reflect the technical staff’s view” and was the product of an unspecified “political effort.”
The controversy is being driven by an unlikely advocate–a University of Washington soccer coach who noticed that a significant number of soccer players that played on synthetic turf have been diagnosed with cancer. She thought the cancers were too many to be a coincidence.
An NBC News Report entitled “How Safe Is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On?” documented the efforts of Amy Griffin, associate head coach for the women’s soccer team at the University of Washington,
to compile a list of young soccer players contracting leukemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers after two goalies she knew were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Griffin found 38 U.S. soccer players with blood cancers, including 34 goalkeepers. Besides being soccer players, the one thing they had in common was that they often played on artificial turf made with crumb rubber granules.
Griffin explained that goalkeepers, whose bodies are in constant contact with the turf have more potential exposure to crumb rubber. She said that when they dive to block a shot on goal it causes a black cloud of tire pellets to fly into the air. The granules get into their cuts and scrapes, and into their mouths Griffin said.
The NBC report, which aired on October 8, increased concerns among parents of children that play on artificial turf, as well as some state and federal regulators.
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch blames the CPSC for not fulfilling its responsibility to enforce lead limits on the playgrounds.
“The Consumer Product Safety Commission has abandoned its legal duty to protect children on playgrounds from chemical exposure.” He noted a recently posted press statement from CPSC Chair Elliot Kaye extolling his concern about children on crumb rubber play surfaces. Ruch said PEER has been unable to “get a straight answer from the Commission about why it punted on playground lead limits and kept silent.”
“In response to industry pressure the Commission has assumed a fetal position on playground toxicity,” Ruch added. “Even today, Commission staff refers congressional and other inquiries to the turf industry as the best source of information, including on issues of toxicity.”
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) also expressed concerned about CPSC’s about face on its artificial turf review.
He wrote a letter to CPSC Chairman Kaye Product Safety Commission on Nov. 13, calling for a federal study of the crumb rubber used in turf fields and playgrounds across the country to assess the potential dangers to the health of children exposed to them.
“We need an authoritative, independent study that is unbiased by special interests,” Blumenthal emphasized.
According to the letter, a study done by Yale University found crumb rubber pieces contain 96 different chemicals, and 20 percent of the toxic chemicals present were carcinogens.
OEHHA’s third study of artificial turf fields since 2008 was funded by a contract with Cal-Recycle.
The agency recently convened a panel of seven scientists to participate in the study for the The Synthetic Turf Scientific Advisory Panel.
The panel members will provide advice on the design and implementation of OEHHA’s synthetic turf study. The study aims to characterize the exposures and health risks from playing on synthetic turf and playground mats made from recycled tire materials.
Members of the Panel were selected for their expertise in the following areas of special-ization: exposure science, laboratory science and analytical chemistry, environmental monitoring, bio-statistics, medicine, public health, and children’s health.