Crumb-rubber used in athletic fields poses threat to kids

In October, NBC aired the news that a University of Washington women’s soccer coach, who also coaches youth soccer, noticed a pattern of cancer among soccer players.

That was a wake-up call for the general public to get informed about materials used in artificial turf, especially crumb rubber.

For the past decade, crumb rubber turf fields were widely installed around the Pacific Northwest. The Edmonds School District is considering the installation of artificial turf sports-fields made of crumb rubber over natural dirt and grass playgrounds of a campus with kindergarteners through high schoolers.

Crumb rubber is created by shredding truck/automobile tires. Every soccer parent knows that gnat-sized pieces of rubber get into clothing, hair, nose, mouth, eyes and ears of all players. By far, goalkeepers have the greatest exposure. So many pieces of crumb rubber get into athletes’ clothing that many families have had to replace their washing machines.

Tires are well-known to contain heavy metals, carcinogens, phthalates, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, carbon black and many additional chemicals of potential concern.

Magic does not remove these toxic chemicals when roughly 40,000 tires are shredded and dumped into each sports-field. In 2015, bills in several states proposed temporary moratoriums on future installation of crumb-rubber fields to minimize impacts until more research can be conducted. School districts in New York and California have banned crumb-rubber infill, largely because of the discovery of unsafe levels of heavy metals dumped into sportsfields.

Sweden and Norway have total bans on crumb rubber. Norway requires tire manufacturers to remove many toxins during the manufacturing process. That way, used tires can be recycled in more applications with fewer health and environmental effects.

All over America, health professionals, toxicologists and others are raising health and environmental concerns about crumb rubber. In February 2015, an investigative journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle reported, “the EPA officially ceased all collaboration with the ‘Scrap Tire Work Group’ in December 2014. The EPA’s new position no longer promotes the use of crumb rubber in playfields. The EPA now recommends further research at the state and local levels.”

“The EPA made a mistake in promoting this. That’s my personal view,” said Suzanne Wuerthele, a retired EPA toxicologist. “This was a serious no-brainer. You take something with all kinds of hazardous materials and make it something kids play on? It seems like a dumb idea.”

Where do our public health officials, health providers for children and environmental advocates weigh in? Where are you? Should you wait until after the damage has been done to stop exposing people and the environment to crumb rubber?

Or should we, as a citizenry, invoke the precautionary principle: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action. See:

Shouldn’t Seattle, Everett, Lynnwood and everyone else take a precautionary stance? Shouldn’t we want a moratorium on installations of crumb-rubber artificial turf fields until health effects on players, neighboring residents and school children in nearby classrooms are better understood?

Margaret Pinson is a resident of Edmonds.

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