The long-term health effects of recycled tire crumb turfs have been questioned for some time now; parents of children who frequently play on these surfaces are naturally concerned. Now, governmental agencies in the US are launching a coordinated effort to answer the question: do these surfaces cause cancer?
Tire crumb is made by breaking down scrap tires and removing 99% of the steel and fabric they contain.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), markets in the US for crumb rubber include new rubber products, playground and other sports surfacing, and rubber-modified asphalt. In 2013, sports surfaces accounted for 17% of the crumb rubber market.
Although previous, limited studies have not shown a link between health risks and playing on fields with tire crumb, the EPA say these studies have not fully investigated the health risk concerns regarding exposure to the artificial turf.
As such, the EPA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are initiating a multi-agency plan to study the effects these surfaces may have on human health.
In 2014, Amy Griffin, assistant soccer coach at the University of Washington, reported to NBC News that she observed a high incidence of lymphoma in young soccer goalies, athletes who must repeatedly dive down into the turf to block goals.
Griffin’s interview and NBC News’ investigation naturally caused alarm for parents and athletes alike.
According to nonprofit Environment and Human Health, most of the cancers that soccer goalies get are lymphomas, which are cancers that are heavily linked to environmental factors. The organization notes that when a specific group comes down with a specific cancer, “it is often caused by an exposure to a specific group of chemical carcinogens that are in that particular environment.”
The US government is on board with getting to the bottom of any potential health effects linked to the turf. Through their coordinated Federal Research Action Plan, the agencies are seeking to fill important data and knowledge gaps, characterize the components of recycled tire crumb and identify ways people may be exposed to tire crumb.
As part of their investigation, the agencies will conduct research studies, and by late 2016, they will release a status report describing their findings at that point in time.
California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment are currently conducting an in-depth tire crumb study, which includes investigations into whether tire crumb chemicals can be released under certain environmental conditions.
The study is also looking into any health risks these potential releases might present to players who regularly play on tire crumb fields.
As part of the new series of studies, researchers will test different types of tire crumb in order to determine what chemicals might be released from the material.
Additionally, they plan to explore what happens when a person comes into contact with the material. For example, does sweat affect how any chemicals might be absorbed? Also, what happens when an athlete accidentally ingests the tire crumb on the playing field?
The EPA say that once they “better understand what chemicals are in tire crumb, [they] will also be able to search existing databases of information to understand the potential health effects of those chemicals.”
In a statement from the CPSC, Chairman Elliot F. Kaye describes the multi-agency effort as a “significant first step to providing parents with the answers they deserve.”
“Some of the government’s best and brightest scientists are working to identify what is in recycled tire crumb, identify ways in which people may be exposed to it, and determine if it is harmful. Robust public participation and the sharing of sound and accurate information will be a critical component of this effort.”
He says he is “hopeful Congress will recognize this issue as the public health concern that it is and quickly provide additional resources and authorities that may be needed to complete this vital work.”
Parents and athletes will no doubt want to know the outcomes of the upcoming studies and whether any decisive action will be taken if ill effects are uncovered.
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