The Edmonds City Council’s decision to impose an 18-month freeze on the installation of turf fields with crumb rubber infill appears to rest on the assumption that there is substantial uncertainty regarding chemical exposures from this product. There is always at least some uncertainty in all areas of scientific inquiry, but the key is to look to the best available science. In the case of synthetic turf, the best available science indicates that there is no reason for concern about health risks for users of these fields. Dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles and multiple state health agencies support this conclusion, and some have reviewed the evidence as recently as this year.
It is certainly understandable that parents and community members want to be prudent and take every possible precaution in protecting their children. But the discussion of potential health risks needs to be informed by the science, and also provided with context. For instance, studies that have examined chemicals in synthetic turf have found concentrations for some are similar to, or lower than, those found in natural soils. In addition, the finding of chemicals in a substance does not necessarily imply a health risk. We interact with products with potentially harmful chemicals and carcinogens every day (e.g., your iPhone, your computer, your carpet). However, because exposures are low there are generally not concerns for health effects.
Children’s safety—both now and in the long-term—is absolutely paramount. But fear devoid of evidence shouldn’t undermine the science. In the case of synthetic turf, the best available science indicates no health concerns for people using these fields. Hopefully, over the course of the next 18 months, Edmunds officials and residents will analyze the available data and come to the same conclusion.
— By Michael Peterson
Michael Peterson is a board-certified toxicologist at Gradient, an environmental and risk sciences consulting firm. He serves as scientific adviser to the Recycled Rubber Council.