My daughter’s pre-school purchased a play table filled with heated crumb rubber. The kids love it. It is super warm, emits a wonderful smell, and the kids can build all kinds of fun things with it.
Artificial Turf in Medway
Last year the residents in our town of Medway, MA voted to spend $4.2M to resurface our existing Hanlon artificial turf field and construct two new artificial turf fields. Artificial turf is made with fake blades of grass (ribbons) and filled in with crumb rubber. Crumb rubber is ground up automobile and truck tires.
Unbeknownst to me, crumb rubber has been debated for years as unsafe. In October 2014, the debate went (more) mainstream. NBC aired a story in which a University of Washington soccer coach created a buzz by questioning if there is a link between artificial turf and cancer. Two students on her soccer team, both goalies, were diagnosed with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma. Goalies, more than any other players, roll on the ground and ingest pellets. On a hunch about crumb rubber, this coach did some homework into soccer players that developed different kinds of cancer. The coach compiled a short list of 38 soccer players with cancer. 34 were goalies. The NBC story went on about the composition of crumb rubber… “The International Agency for Cancer Research lists four (compounds in tires) as carcinogens. Arsenic. Benzine. Cadmium. Nickel.” The video is below.
At our town meeting last year a couple parents raised the issue of the crumb rubber infill being unsafe. At the mere mention of this at the town meeting the auditorium filled with dismissive sighs of impatience. At the time, I had not put much thought into the safety of crumb rubber either. Now I am ready to listen.
Is crumb rubber safe for athletic fields?
The short answer: Nobody knows.
Establishing empirical evidence is no small task. Empirical evidence may be found someday. That day could be 10, 20, 30 years or more from now. We need to make decisions based on what we know today.
Facts about crumb rubber
1) Crumb rubber is made from shredded automobile and truck tires.
2) Crumb rubber contains carcinogens. “Crumb rubber contains benzothiazole, which ‘exerts acute toxicity and is a respiratory irritant and a dermal sensitizer.’ Carbon black, which makes up 20-40% of crumb rubber, has been identified as a cancer-causing chemical.” …source.
See the image to the right for a complete list of compounds and materials found in tires published by the EPA.
3) Crumb rubber can rise to 200 degrees Fahrenheit in the hot summer sun source.
4) Each artificial turf field could contain as many as 40,000 ground up tires. With this math Medway has paid good money to bring 120,000 old automobile tires into our town and intentionally lay them on the ground to bake in the sun where our children play (3 fields).
5) For more detailed research on crumb rubber, I highly suggest that you go here.
What is my unprofessional opinion?
I am not comfortable with crumb rubber.
I compare it to second hand cigarette smoke. We know second hand cigarette smoke contains harmful carcinogens that can make you sick. We also know that the odds of you becoming sick from the occasional exposure to second hand cigarette smoke are low. In this case we are talking about children. We are deciding for them. Children have developing minds and bodies that do not sustain toxic exposure as well as adults.
Will I let my kids play on crumb rubber?
I don’t know.
I don’t see much harm in playing an occasional game on crumb rubber artificial turf. However, what about when my kids are in high school? What if they play a sport five days a week on crumb rubber… in the baking sun… for a whole season? This could mean 60 hours of crumb rubber “second hand smoke” per season. A Medway Mustang four-year fall and spring athlete could potentially log in 480 hours on these fields over a high school career. Your kids might not play goalie, but somebody’s kid does. Ingesting one pellet of crumb rubber while tending goal might not make her/him sick. Ingesting one pellet per day over 8 seasons means 480 pellets ingested over a high school career. Does this not worry you?
My Full Disclosure
Last year I was vocal in my opposition to artificial turf. I expressed a preference for grass playing surfaces and dismantled the foolish notion that towns save money with artificial turf because it can get more usage. Health concerns were not on my radar last year. This blog has no hidden agenda for natural grass. I lost that battle. This is about having a safe playing field for our kids.
We are not limited to crumb rubber for infill. Other, natural infill options are available. I am willing to spend even more town money on a natural infill alternative. We need to remove this cloud of health-risk-doubt from over the heads of our children.
What are our infill choices?
Here are three alternatives to crumb rubber that I am aware of. None of these are perfect. All of them are more expensive. All of them are worth considering.
1) Nike Grind. It is ground up sneakers, and yes, it is technically still crumb rubber. Sneakers, however, are subject to stricter consumer safety guidelines than automobile tires. Here is a story about a school that was in a spot similar to Medway that went with Nike Grind.
2) Coconut Husks
Are the fields done yet?
Does it matter? When it comes to the health of our children, we make a decision and then deal with the cost. But since you asked, at last check…
- Hanlon is done.
- North Field has the carpet down (no crumb rubber infill yet).
- South Field is under construction.
- Crumb rubber has been delivered but not spread.
The Board of Selectman heard from several residents on October 21, 2014 regarding crumb rubber health concerns. Our concerns were dismissed and the project will continue.
The only way we will change course is if lots of people speak up. Be nice. But speak up. Tell town officials that you, like me, do not have empirical evidence on crumb rubber, but you have some concerns. We want the town to have some discussions about the safety of crumb rubber and alternatives for our fields.
Town Administrator: firstname.lastname@example.org
Selectwoman Mary Jane White: email@example.com
Selectman Glenn Trindade: firstname.lastname@example.org
Selectman Dennis Crowley Sr: email@example.com
Selectman John Foresto: firstname.lastname@example.org
Selectman Rick D’Innocenzo: email@example.com
Also, follow some of the local action here on facebook.
We cannot change infill material without absorbing a financial hit. Some of the work and procurement has already been done. When it comes to the health of our children, does the cost really matter? Let’s make the right decisions together.
Back to (pre)school
Back to my daughter’s pre-school and their play table filled with heated crumb rubber. I made this story up. Would you allow your toddler to play in a play table filled with heated crumb rubber? Of course not! You know that crumb rubber contains carcinogens. You know that kids are prone to putting stuff in their mouths. What if they swallowed some? No reasonable parent would allow their toddler to play with crumb rubber. That would be crazy. So why do we have this cognitive dissonance with turf fields made from 120,000 tires heated to 200 degrees? If you think that older kids playing on artificial turf are not accidentally eating crumb rubber then I have some news for you.
Ingesting crumb rubber is a daily occurrence for athletes on artificial turf. It does not need to be this way for the children of Medway.
Author’s Update 11/11/2014
A public forum has been planned for 7pm on Wednesday, November 19th in Medway, MA at the Middle School. This free forum is open to everyone – even non Medway residents. Both sides of the artificial turf conversation will be presented.
Kirk Souza (that is me) is a resident of Medway, MA and a youth soccer coach.