SAN DIEGO—State legislatures are rushing to judgment against recycled rubber playground and athletic surfacing, according to a rubber industry expert on scrap tires and recycling.
The lawmakers are basing their action on one study that contradicts virtually every other published analysis of the material, according to Michael Blumenthal, vice president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association. He spoke at the second annual “Scrap to Profit: International Symposium on Recycled Rubber in Plastic and Rubber Products,” held May 6-7 in San Diego.
“We're being bombarded by allegations and half-truths,” Blumenthal said, regarding the questions being raised in several states about alleged environmental or human health risks associated with ground rubber used as playground or sports surfacing.
The RMA is preparing its own report, which it plans to release shortly, reviewing more than 120 relevant studies and weighing the existing evidence into leachate from recycled rubber playground and sports turf to make a comprehensive risk assessment, according to Blumenthal.
Meanwhile, the association has been busy keeping track of state legislation concerning polymeric surfacing, including the following:
* California. A bill, now in the state senate, would require the state to conduct a broad study on the comparative health effects of synthetic turf and natural grass.
* Connecticut. Proposed legislation, which didn't get out of committee, would have allocated $200,000 to the Connecticut Agricultural Experimental Station to test the health effects of ground rubber in athletic playing fields.
* Maryland. Maryland HB 328 would have prohibited the use of funds under the state's Program Open Space to replace existing natural grass athletic fields with artificial turf. The state's House Environmental Matters Committee reported the bill unfavorably.
* Minnesota. A House committee is reviewing a proposal to fund a study of the health effects of synthetic turf and forbid the use of synthetic turf without site-specific impact reports.
* New Jersey. No action has been scheduled yet for a bill that would declare a moratorium on the installation of synthetic turf pending a comprehensive environmental and health effects study.
* New York. A bill introduced in the state assembly would declare a moratorium on the use of synthetic turf pending an environmental and health study.
All of these bills were introduced in reaction to a study by Environment & Human Health Inc., a Connecticut nonprofit organization, which recommended a moratorium on the installation of ground rubber playground surfacing and athletic fields, according to Blumenthal. He said the group based its recommendations on limited testing and extrapolation from occupational studies and a critique of quantitative studies.
In contrast, multiple studies on outdoor and indoor playgrounds and athletic fields, performed in Norway, France, Canada, the Netherlands and the U.S. between 2003 and 2007, showed no significant environmental impact to surrounding soil or health impact to children and athletes who used them, he said.
Organizations such as the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the Connecticut Department of Public Health have released risk assessments finding little risk to the environment or public health from artificial turf, he said.
“Based on the available studies, there is a low likelihood of adverse ecological or adverse health effects for children or athletes exposed to recycled tires found at playgrounds or athletic fields,” Blumenthal said. “And there is a low likelihood of adverse ecological or environmental outcomes from field leachate.”
Besides the RMA report, various government agencies and private groups are planning further health and environmental studies of rubber playground surfacing and athletic fields, according to the RMA executive.
Probably the most comprehensive of these studies will be the interagency effort between the California Integrated Waste Management Board and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, he said. The agencies agreed April 22 to spend $200,000 on a study to provide an objective assessment of the health-related aspects of synthetic turf, including possible inhalation risks associated with rubber particles or chemicals and abrasion injury risks.
The RMA, the CIWMB, the Asphalt Rubber Technology Service at Clemson University and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control were co-sponsors of the Scrap-to-Profit symposium, held in conjunction with the International Tire Conference May 5-9 in San Diego.