This is a critical time for the recycled rubber industry, as the use of crumb rubber in synthetic athletic fields comes under further scrutiny, both in the media and now with politicians.
A series of stories, primarily from NBC News, started a year ago and have picked up again trying to link the use of crumb rubber to various forms of cancer. It specifically tried to tie the stories of young female goalkeepers on soccer teams who have developed cancer at an alarmingly high rate to playing for years on artificial fields made with crumb rubber.
The latest report puts the number of players found to have contracted cancer at 63, with 15 of those dying. In the wake of these broadcasts, some communities and organizations are electing to ban the use of crumb rubber in artificial turf.
After the latest reports, the leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee—both Democrats and Republicans—sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency requesting immediate answers to a series of specific questions regarding the safety of recycled rubber athletic turf.
This puts organizations such as the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the Rubber Manufacturers Association, the Recycled Rubber Council and Safe Fields Alliance in a very difficult position.
These groups point to the 75 or so studies that support the safety of crumb rubber. ISRI even has taken the offensive, writing its own letter to the EPA, telling the agency it should publicly defend crumb rubber, noting the EPA's own study found nothing unsafe with the recycled material.
The problem is this: While these groups are holding up studies and trying to champion the safety of crumb rubber, the public sees the stories of dozens of soccer players who have cancer, and they see the image of crumb rubber shooting into the air whenever a goalie hits the turf.
The public and politicians want answers, and they deserve them. What needs to happen is that these questions must be answered authoritatively by an independent third-party study.
Hopefully, the study recently launched by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment—supported by EPA scientists—will be able to provide those answers, be they good or bad.
Until then, the issue will continue to have an adverse effect on the rubber recycling sector.