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Old car and truck tires, pulverized and repurposed, create cushioning in artificial athletic fields nationwide, enabling schools to increase the number of practices and games played, yet the safety of crumb rubber – tiny black rubber particles, called "turf bugs" in the sports community – remains disputed as a purported cause of increased injuries to student athletes. There are also numerous parents, coaches, and physicians nationwide who cite an increase of serious illnesses, including cancer, in those athletes who have played on artificial crumb rubber turf. Yet studies remain ambiguous as more and more school districts add artificial turf to their high school playing fields.
Made of multiple layers, artificial turf systems require a base of drainage material such as stones, followed by a pad of rubber, commonly called the E-layer, topped off by a carpet of synthetic grass blades, which is filled in with crumb rubber, leaving about a half-inch of grass blades on the surface. Artificial turf "is made up, at least in part, of a lot of toxic substances," said Nick Leonard of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center (GLELC), which is affiliated with Wayne State University. Citing a peer review study in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the GLELC reported, "the four metals (lead, arsenic, cadmium, and chromium), that are commonly found in crumb rubber, have been described as systemic toxicants that are known to induce severe adverse health effects, even at lower levels of exposure."
The health risks from overexposure to the four metals, which are all listed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Carcinogen List and Priority Chemical List, include, "cardiovascular disease, developmental abnormalities, neurologic and neurobehavioral disorders, diabetes, hearing loss, hematologic and immunologic disorders, and various types of cancer," according to the GLELC.
Under contract from CalRecycle, the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), published a brief explanation of a planned study that will evaluate athlete exposure to chemicals released from crumb rubber and artificial turf blades, "in synthetic turf from indoor and outdoor fields throughout California," it stated. A recent statement from Laura Allen, deputy press secretary for the Environmental Protection Agency, said, "EPA and other federal agencies are collaborating with California as they design and carry out their assessment" of crumb rubber....continued on page 2