If you have kids or grand kids you’ve probably noticed the springy recycled tire rubber surfaces found under many newer playgrounds. The material is also used on sports fields in modern artificial turf. The popular surfaces, made from shredded tires, reduce injury, require little maintenance, and are weatherproof. So what’s the problem? Tires contain known carcinogenic aromatic hydrocarbons like benzene, as well as lead, and other heavy metals..
The EPA is conducting air and surface samples at four fields and playgrounds that feature recycled tires. According to AP the study was implemented in light of other EPA research suggesting health risks from exposure to the tire particles.
"From everything I’ve been able to see, I’m not sure there’s an imminent hazard, but it’s something we’re investigating, it’s critical to take a look at all the data together." – Michael Firestone, EPA’s head of children’s health protection.
Much of the concern is due to tiny particles of "turf dust" that could be kicked up and inhaled during play.
Dr. Philip Landrigan, professor and chairman of community and preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York is calling for a moratorium on the surface until more studies are done.
"All those toxins are very available to kids, if kids are playing and running, all this chemical soup is going to get on their skins and their fingers."- Dr. Landrigan
This issue is a perfect example of the classic disconnect regarding dangerous toxins in our society. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 25% of illness worldwide is due to human exposure to toxins. With that in mind it seems ridiculous that we would purposefully place large quantities of a material made from known carcinogens on our children’s playgrounds and athletic fields.
Of particular concern to parents should be the lead and benzene present in "crumb rubber." Lead is well known to cause neurological damage in children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advocates eliminating all non-essential uses of lead.
Benzene is linked with bone marrow failure diseases like aplastic anemia, myelodysplastic syndromes, and acute myeloid leukemia.
The EPA points out that chemicals in recycled tires vary by location and manufacturer.