EPA Researches Toxins in Playground Surfaces

Max Boath - Contributing Writer
Posted on Wednesday 10th June 2009

The next time your mother tells you to turn off the TV and go play outside in the heat, here’s a good excuse for staying put in the air conditioning. Federal government studies have begun to reconsider the health effects of outdoor playground surfaces made from “tire crumb,” tiny pellets of ground up tires. The Environmental Protection Agency has endorsed the use of crushed up rubber tires for years, due to the cushioning they provide for playing fields and the recycling of tires. Now, the EPA’s own scientists are reinvestigating research that indicates prolonged exposure to shredded rubber can lead to a higher intake of carcinogens and chemicals.

Several studies done last month on the recycled-rubber surfaces in New York revealed no health or environmental problems, and synthetic turf companies state that laboratory conditions do not reflect actual conditions. Tests were also done on fields for lead and other toxins, but none were found. Still, the EPA cited that there were gaps in much of the data, and that further testing needed to be done. Communities nationwide have been raising concern about children breathing, touching, or ingesting lead, benzene, zinc and other metals and chemicals. Older fields are more likely to kick up lead particles, and chemicals from recycled tires differ depending on the tire manufacturer. This makes for debatable outcomes, since most sample sizes are of just a few playgrounds.

The new information is not enough for the EPA to recall all synthetic playing fields. The tire crumb turf has decreased playground injuries, and the research is meant to provide reassurance, not create panic. Even so, results from the year-long study are to come out within the next few weeks, and a failed health report could spell disaster for many. The National Recreation and Parks Association and the Consumer Product Safety Commission could have their credibility shaken, since they made the recommendation of using scrap tire mulch below the play set of President Obama’s daughters at the White House. The EPA still needs to look over all of the evidence before making a decision, but until then you might want to stick to playing on grass fields.

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