MONTREAL—It is important to remember one important fact in the ongoing debate about the potential health risks of crumb rubber: most of the studies that have deemed it safe have been commissioned by neutral bodies, such as government or education.
And that means detractors can't pass off results as industry biases, say executives who spoke during the 2014 Rubber Recycling Symposium, held Oct. 22-24 in Montreal. The Rubber Manufacturers' Association and the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada organized the event.
“The studies that say they did not identify a cancer risk are studies from bastions of conservative thought like the state of California, and these are actually helpful to us, to be able to actually say government looked at this issue,” said Tracey Norberg, the Rubber Manufacturers' Association senior vice president and general counsel.
“Most of the research was done by independent universities. It wasn't industry-sponsored research,” said Stephen Murphy, chief path finder of Phoenix Innovation Technology Inc. “There's a plethora of documentation out there.”
Crumb rubber as infill in turf became a hot topic again in recent weeks after NBC News aired the story, “How Safe Is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On?”
The piece focused on Amy Griffin, associate head coach for the women's soccer team at the University of Washington, who identified 38 U.S. soccer players who had been diagnosed with blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, including 34 goalkeepers. The story pointed out they shared one trait: They often competed on artificial turf, comprised of crumb rubber granules.
“Why (the results of independent research) was ignored as part of the reporting—media is media—and so what you have to do is manage that response in responsible fashion,” said Murphy, who said he spent three years in the field turf industry.
“You can expose the studies in a responsible way and address the perception, because right now we're dealing with the perception issue, not necessarily the reality. So I think the good news is there's a lot of independent research not commanded by the industry.”
Norberg said the report did not provide any substantive facts, nor did it offer any new information.
“I think it's important to realize, when you listen to the NBC story, that they're not presenting any data; they're not presenting any scientific research; there's nothing new that is in the scientific domain on this topic,” she said.
Conversely, the Synthetic Turf Council lists 60 studies on its website, all of which conclude that crumb rubber poses no health risks.
“It's been studied by the federal level, the state level, and I don't what else we can do,” said Barry Takallou, president and CEO of the Crumb Rubber Manufacturers. “The science is there, and for people to say there is a problem with this material, there's no science to say there's a problem.”