NCHR Letter to Maryland on State Funding for Artificial Turf and Playgrounds

Diana Zuckerman, PhD, National Center for Health Research, March 5, 2018

To: The Honorable Governor Larry Hogan
The Honorable Mike Busch, Speaker, Maryland House of Delegates
The Honorable Thomas V. Mike Miller, President, Maryland Senate
The Honorable Maggie McIntosh, Chair, House Appropriations Committee
The Honorable Edward Kasemeyer, Chair, Senate Budget and Taxation Committee

cc: Members of the House Appropriations and Senate Budget and Taxation Committees
Delegate Aruna Miller
Senator Roger Manno

Subject: State funding for synthetic (artificial) turf and playgrounds (HB 505, SB 763)

As president of the National Center for Health Research (NCHR) a resident of Montgomery
County for more than 25 years, and the former Chair of the Governor’s Women’s Health
Promotion Council, I strongly support HB 505 and SB 763 to prohibit the use of state funds for artificial turf fields and similarly dangerous playground materials. NCHR conducts research and helps consumers and policy makers understand scientific evidence that can be used to improve programs and policies that affect the health of adults and children. We do not accept any funds from drug or medical device industry sources. And, as a public health expert and parent of two children raised in Maryland, my focus is how we can keep our children safe and healthy.

Artificial turf is made from synthetic rubber, plastic, and other materials with known health risks. For example, the widely used material known as crumb rubber includes cancer-causing agents as well as chemicals that disrupt our bodies’ hormones. These are called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and studies show that they contribute to early puberty, obesity, and attention deficit disorder. Since endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been banned from rubber duckies, teething toys, and other products children use for a relatively short period of time, it makes no sense for the State of Maryland to spend millions of dollars on playing fields and playgrounds that will expose our children to those same types of banned chemicals day after day, year after year.

The artificial turf industry and those that have financial and personal ties to them tell us that there is no clear evidence that their fields caused any child to develop cancer or any other disease. They also state that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have declared these materials as safe for use in
playgrounds or athletic fields. Those statements are misleading. CPSC has conducted recent workshops on the topic attended by invited scientific and public health experts, but neither CPSC nor EPA have concluded that these products are safe.

In February 2016, the U.S. government announced a new action plan to better understand the likely health risk of recycled tire crumb and similar artificial surfaces. This initiative involves the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC); the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease registry (ATSDR); and CPSC. No results are yet available and given the anti-regulatory focus of the current federal administration, we do not expect any new restrictions in the near future. That makes the actions of Maryland even more important.

Meanwhile, various reliable science-based studies from the California Office of Environmental Health and Yale University, among others, have found dozens of harmful chemical in tire crumb used in these playing surfaces. In addition to the impact of those chemicals on children’s hormones and development, as mentioned above, tests have shown that artificial turf and playground materials can cause skin and eye irritation as well as asthma. The surface temperature can rise above 140 degrees even when the temperature of the air and grass is between 65 and 95 degrees. Recent testimony before the Maryland House Appropriations Committee provided striking examples of children suffering serious burns and MRSA-infected abrasions from artificial turf. In fact, players’ preferences and concerns about injuries helped convince the Ravens to switch back from artificial turf to natural grass several years ago.

In summary, those who manufacture or install artificial turf, and scientists and others with
financial and personal connections to those industries, have made safety claims that are not supported by any unbiased research. Even when they admit problems with tire crumb, they claim that newer types of artificial turf are safer. Unfortunately, some of the materials used in the newer types of artificial turf are not publicly disclosed, making safety claims meaningless and safety research all but impossible.

The State of Maryland has many spending priorities and should not be spending millions of
dollars for artificial turf fields and playgrounds that can exacerbate our children’s health
problems now, and potentially cause them to develop cancer in the years to come. Let’s instead invest in safe, natural playing fields, unless any synthetic alternatives are proven in unbiased research to be as safe and as cost-effective as grass for fields and engineered wood fiber for playgrounds.

Thank you for considering our views. We would be glad to supply additional information upon request.


Diana Zuckerman, PhD
National Center for Health Research