WASHINGTON (Dec. 11, 2009)—Crumb rubber from recycled tires used as surfacing for athletic fields and playgrounds contribute little to air and ground pollution, according to a limited study performed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Though widely praised for providing soft yet durable surfacing for children at play and athletes, crumb rubber has come under criticism from some environmental circles as a potential source of hazardous particulates, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals, as well a possible vector for heat buildup in the ground surface during warm weather.
To address these concerns, the EPA conducted a study in August-October 2008 of tire crumb use at fields in Washington, D.C., and near agency laboratories in Cincinnati, Ohio; Raleigh, N.C.; and Athens, Ga. Agency researchers collected air and “wipe” samples at the sites.
The study found that VOC, particulate and metal concentrations at the fields treated with crumb rubber were similar to those of fields without crumb rubber, the EPA said. There were no tire-related fibers in any of the air samples, and all air concentrations of lead and particulates were well below levels that might cause concern.
More than 90 percent of the lead in the crumb rubber was too tightly bound for children or athletes to absorb, the agency said. Zinc was found in the tire crumb samples, but again in amounts below potential levels of concern.
While more data is needed to reach more comprehensive conclusions about crumb rubber, most of the methods used in the study were accurate and reproducible enough to use in future studies. The agency said it plans to host a 2010 meeting with federal and state agencies that have conducted their own field studies of crumb rubber, to review all data and determine future actions.