WASHINGTON—A Democratic congressman from New Jersey has written the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, calling for an official study of the potential health risks of crumb rubber from recycled tires used as artificial athletic turf.
Rep. Frank Pallone, leading Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, sent the Oct. 10 letter to ASTDR based on information from an NBC News report presenting crumb rubber athletic turf as a possible cause of elevated cases of leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma among teenage and college-age soccer players.
“It is clear that more data is needed to evaluate the risks that exist from exposure to crumb rubber in athletic turf and its effect on human health,” Pallone wrote.
Because children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to chemical exposures and are the predominant users of athletic fields across the country, the need for further study of artificial athletic turf is crucial, he said. He asked ASTDR for a study of whether crumb rubber exposure increases the risk of blood cancers.
Artificial athletic turf has been the periodic focus of controversy for several years, mostly from environmental and citizens' groups concerned that volatile organic compounds and heavy metals can leach from tire crumb into soil or water, causing health risks.
Those groups, as well as tire industry organizations and government agencies, have conducted studies trying to determine if crumb rubber in athletic turf presents any health risks.
The most recent major study of crumb rubber athletic turf, released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December 2009, found levels of hazardous substances at four athletic turf sites in North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio and Maryland to be too low to cause harm to humans.
However, the EPA said the study was too limited to reach any comprehensive conclusions about the health risks of artificial turf.
The recycled rubber industry has consistently defended crumb rubber athletic turf as safe.
“There is a considerable body of research on artificial turf, and it reveals no cumulative risk,” said Dan Zielinski, vice president of public affairs for the Rubber Manufacturers Association.
The Synthetic Turf Council issued a statement after the airing of the NBC News story.
“During the past two decades, there have been more than 60 technical studies and reports that review the health effects of crumb rubber,” the STC said. “The preponderance of evidence show no negative health effects associated with crumb rubber in synthetic turf.”