Feds declare turf, rubber playgrounds “generally safe’

Ellie Borst, Politico E&E NEWS, April 18, 2024

Toxic heavy metals or associated air pollutants from recycled tire crumbs used for synthetic turf and rubber playgrounds “generally” do not put people at risk of illnesses, according to a long-awaited federal report.

A joint effort by EPA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the report is the first comprehensive study on the risks of harmful chemical exposure on turf fields or rubber playgrounds and comes more than eight years after the three federal agencies first teamed up.

“Although chemicals are present in the tire crumbs, as expected, and exposures can occur, those exposures are likely limited,” Annette Guiseppi-Elie, national program director for EPA’s Chemical Safety for Sustainability research program, said during a webinar Wednesday.

Researchers studied 25 participants, both adults and children, playing on three synthetic turf fields over different durations and temperatures to see if they would be exposed to dangerous levels of chemicals well-known for human health harms.

The report reinforces EPA’s long-held stance that turf or rubber play areas are safe.

Concerns over the issue surfaced decades ago when researchers found the recycled tire crumbs, also a popular infill material for turf fields, contained traces of neurotoxic metals such as lead and zinc. Those concerns ballooned in 2016 following a “60 Minutes” report that aired the stories of former high school football players who said their cancer diagnoses could be traced back to turf fields.

Diana Zuckerman, president for the National Center for Health Research, said the report was “very disappointing” and “not a credible response” to concerns.

“I had hoped this report would be more cautious in saying this is what we know, this is what we don’t know,” Zuckerman said. “When they said this was generally not a problem … it means that most people won’t have a problem, but it doesn’t mean that nobody will have a problem. And it doesn’t mean that hardly anybody will have a problem. We don’t know how many people are playing on these fields that may be vulnerable.”

Melanie Taylor, president and CEO of the Synthetic Turf Council, said the council was “pleased to see it reaffirms what other research has shown: synthetic turf and its system components are safe.”

The report did not measure exposure to “forever chemicals,” or PFAS, a recent point of controversy in the “turf wars” due to the chemicals’ connections to cancer and other serious health effects.


To read the entire report, click here.