The Precautionary Principle states “Where threats of serious or irreversible harm to people or nature exist, anticipatory action will be taken to prevent damages to human and environmental health, even when full scientific certainty about cause and effect is not available, with the intent of safeguarding the quality of life for current and future generations.”
This is exactly the situation we find ourselves in with regard to the use of crumb rubber infill on athletic fields….we simply do not know the extent of the harm that may be caused by a playing on field containing UNDISPUTED toxins and carcinogens. We do not know the full potential, because long term studies have NOT yet been undertaken, and current studies have many gaps in the data. https://www.toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/Crumb+Rubber
It is a fact that many studies have been undertaken on crumb rubber. Depending on focus, a study can be held up by regulatory toxicologists and industry as showing safety; many times the same study can be read by health effects researchers and concerned parents as further indication for a need for precaution. https://inthesetimes.com/article/18504/epa_government_scientists_and_chemical_industry_links_influence_regulations
The regulatory toxicologists, like Gradient Corp., who provided the review of current studies to Verdant Health Commission, are in the business of defending product safety. Gradient has also defended Fieldturf in California, BPA in baby bottles, tobacco, and arsenic on playgrounds. Lead toxicologist, Michael Peterson, who provided the report to Verdant, is currently an advisor to the Recycled Rubber Council, which adamantly defends the safety of crumb rubber. https://www.local21news.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/Toxic-fields-a-growing-concern-among-athletic-circles-236067.shtml?wap=0
Health effects researchers are the epidemiologists, endocrinologists, and other prevention based fields whose main interest is in preventing and treating disease. These professionals are calling for caution with the use of crumb rubber- especially around children. According to Dr. Phillip Landrigan, dean of global health at New York’s Mt. Sinai Hospital and a top expert on the effect of chemicals on children “Children go to playgrounds almost daily, and gifted athletes are on the soccer filed almost every day. That sort of cumulative exposure results in a buildup in their body of these toxic chemicals, and can result in a buildup of cellular damage that’s caused by these chemicals, that can then result in disease years or decades later.” “Little children should not be put in a situation where they’re forced to be in intimate contact with carcinogenic chemicals,” Dr. Landrigan added. https://kansascity.legalexaminer.com/defective-dangerous-products/playground-danger-is-recycled-rubber-mulch-toxic-to-your-kids/
- Barry Boyd, MD: Clinical Professor of Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, Oncologist at Greenwich Hospital and Affiliate Member of the Yale Cancer Center, warned that “because artificial turf playing fields are disproportionately used by children and adolescents, these childhood exposures to environmental carcinogens may add to lifelong risk of cancer.” https://www.saratogafalcon.org/content/are-artificial-turf-fields-carcinogenic
Soccer Wire interviewed Dr. David Brown, Public Health Toxicologist and Director of Public Health Toxicology for EHHI, and past toxicologist for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Brown states in reference to current studies “There isn’t enough content there to answer [the cancer question],” he said. “[Artificial-turf advocates] are deluding themselves.” When asked what advice he would give parents thinking of letting their children play on turf fields, Brown was adamant. “My basic advice is, don’t do it,” he replied. “I think they would have to understand that there is a level of risk that the child is incurring.” And what if there are no other alternatives to artificial -turf fields? “If we feel the need to use [turf fields], I’d require that everyone shower and that they use only shoes that they would use on that field and that they not wear the same clothes in and around afterwards, because you want to reduce the chance that [tire crumbs] would be ingested.” In the absence of conclusive long-term studies on the known carcinogens found in some artificial turf fields, Brown believes it’s better to be safe than sorry. https://www.soccerwire.com/news/a-level-of-risk-former-cdc-toxicologist-unsurprised-by-alleged-link-between-artificial-turf-cancer/
Our federal government is urging caution and the need for more studies. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Spokesperson Liz Purchia called existing studies inadequate, and said “new science” is needed to answer questions about turf safety and that “existing studies do not comprehensively address the recently raised concerns about children’s health risks from exposures to tire crumb.” https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/artificial-turf-debate/senators-call-independent-crumb-rubber-turf-study-n459001
Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) Chairman Elliot Kay stated “safe to play on means something to parents that I do not think we intended to convey and I do not think we should have conveyed.”
Congressman Blumenthal, who wrote a letter to the CPSC urging a long term studies, states that he would encourage any school district or municipality considering installing a synthetic turf field or playground made with crumb rubber to wait until this study has been completed. “Simply to bury our heads without knowing is irresponsible,” Blumenthal said. “Why not wait and see and get some answers.”
So what is at risk if we choose to use an alternative infill, like one of the infill materials used all over Europe for a decade and currently gaining popularity here in the U.S.? Some would say money, since the alternatives are more expensive…to begin with. Seldom factored into the equation are the disposal costs of crumb rubber when it is past its useful life- it ultimately goes to the landfill and these costs can be significant. Other infill materials can be composted or re-used on the replacement field, so while they cost more to begin with, much of the cost is recouped over the life of the field.
If we choose to continue with the use of crumb rubber the consequences may be unthinkable. Washington State Department of Health is currently analyzing an “anecdotal” list of almost 200 young athletes who suspect a correlation between years played on crumb rubber turf fields and their cancer. These cancers, mostly blood and predominately affecting soccer goalies, are displaying earlier than normally expected from an environmental exposure. What about the effects of toxic exposure that will show up later in life? Some scientists suspect that the carbon nano-particles contained within the recycled tire mixture, may act similar to asbestos when inhaled deep into the lungs. If this turns out to be true, when will these cases start popping up? Crumb rubber has been used on artificial turf for about 15 years, so we are still early into the results coming out of actual use.
With regard to my child’s health, I prefer to look to the scientists who are concerned with health, before relying on the assurances of safety provided by regulatory scientists, especially considering their past history of defending hazardous products. It is my responsibility to safeguard my child’s health and look out for their future well-being. Such is also the responsibility of the Edmonds City Council with respect to the health and future well-being of the citizens of Edmonds. I applaud the City of Edmonds for seriously considering measures which will provide this needed protection.
It is my hope that at Tuesday’s city council meeting the council will vote to adopt a one-year temporary ban on the use of crumb rubber on children’s playgrounds and athletic fields on all public property- including public school property. This move will allow the council time to gather forthcoming information and consider extending the ban in the future. In the meantime, we will not have further risked the health of our children. Edmonds has an opportunity to be leaders in the protection of human and environmental health. We have done it before- we were the first in the state to ban the use of plastic bags, which cause considerable damage to the environment- many communities subsequently followed this example. Once again, we have a chance to set an example by protecting human and environmental health from unnecessary exposure to known toxins and carcinogens.
Edmonds resident and member, Washington Alliance for Non-toxic Play and Athletic Fields