By Christopher Calnan
A Connecticut public health advocacy group is urging localities to spend money on athletic fields of real grass instead of synthetic turf until high quality studies can be completed.
The Environment and Human Health Inc. is reporting that 22 studies cited by the synthetic turf industry are scientifically inconsistent yet reveal that playing on the fields embedded with shredded tires increase exposure to toxic chemicals and metals.
“Although industry admits that many studies find numerous toxic compounds, they claim that the levels are too low to be dangerous to human health,” the report indicates. “Yet the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences reports that even when there is low-level exposure to an individual chemical that might not cause cancer, when many low-level chemicals act together they can indeed cause cancer.”
Maryland-based Synthetic Turf Council Inc. President and CEO Dan Bond, said the EHHI has a history of “cherry-picking half-truths” that mislead the public.
“The fact is EHHI completely ignores multiple recent research reports and statements from Washington State, the European Chemicals Agency, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, and FIFA that support the safety of synthetic turf fields,” he said in a news release. “This is in addition to the more than 90 peer-reviewed academic studies, third-party reports and federal and state government analyses that have not found public health concerns from playing on synthetic turf fields with recycled rubber infill.”
About 12,000 athletic fields in the United States are using synthetic turf, according to published reports.
The EHHI, which was founded in 1997, reported receipts of about $213,000 during fiscal 2016. The Synthetic Turf Council, founded in 2002, represents more than 200 companies. It reported receipts of about $587,000 during fiscal 2015, according to filings with the Internal Revenue Service.
Last January, Sports Litigation Alert reported that the Environmental Protection Agency disclosed that it’s still evaluating the safety of recycled crumb rubber used in athletic fields and playgrounds — stating that more research needed to be done.
It’s studying the issue from four perspectives: literature review, tire crumb characterization, exposure characterization and playground study. In August, the Office of Management and Budget approved the information collection request for the continuation of the tire crumb exposure characterization study, according to the EPA’s website.
EPA researchers finished collecting samples at the end of October. They’re now analyzing and expect to release a report in 2018, EPA officials told Sports Litigation Alert.
In June, The Hill news organization reported in an opinion piece written by Bond that results will take at least two more years.
EHHI President Nancy Alderman told Sports Litigation Alert she didn’t know when the EPA’s report is expected, but said the EPA has previously advocated for the shredding of tires as a solution to the environmental waste problem they present. That puts the agency in an awkward position if toxicity findings eventually prove to harmful to children, Alderman said.
“What ever answer they come up with it’s going to be very, very difficult,” she said. “The cost has been huge.”
The EHHI’s 112-page report, called Synthetic Turf: Industry’s Claims Versus the Science, was released Nov. 7. It reported that lead was found in every study that looked for it. One study found lead in one field to be 500 to 1,000 times the lead concentration of the other fields tested. Benzothiazole, an eye, skin and respiratory irritant, “was found to be emitted in nearly all the air samples tested and was also found leaching from crumb rubber samples,” the EHHI report shows.
It also found that none of the 22 studies it reviewed looked into the synergy of being exposed to many chemicals at the same time and its affect on those playing on the fields. An indoor field that was tested found high levels of toxins in the air above the field. However, the field was only tested for 25 minutes, the EHHI found.
In 2014, California Sen. Jerry Hill introduced a bill banning new fields of synthetic turf and recycled tires as the state studied the alleged link to cancer. However, the bill failed to gain approval amid heavy industry lobbying efforts. In 2016, he re-introduced another version of the proposed legislation to no avail.
Opposition by labor unions such as the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades the State Building and Construction Trades Council reportedly played a role in the bill’s defeat. California health officials are scheduled to complete a study of potential health risks caused by synthetic turf by mid-2018, according to the non-profit CalMatters organization.