Synthetic turf industry lobbies up in safety fight

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The synthetic turf industry is retaining lobbyists to defend against allegations that some of its materials could be toxic.

In a registration filed days before New Year’s, lobbying firm Clark Hill said it is representing the Synthetic Turf Council in order to meet with lawmakers “to discuss potential congressional action relating to crumb rubber infill in synthetic turf products.”

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The filing comes after an investigation by NBC News into the rubber material, an essential component of artificial sports fields made by companies such as AstroTurf and FieldTurf.

The reports found a number of young athletes who contracted cancer that they and some environmental advocates say is linked to the rubber infill, which is frequently made from recycled vehicle tires.

The controversy has attracted the bipartisan attention of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Al Garver, president of the Synthetic Turf Council, said the services it wanted from Clark Hill were very limited.

“We utilized Clark Hill in October and November to advise us on the best way to brief key offices on the Hill to ensure they had the most current studies available on crumb rubber infill and to let them know that the industry was available to help in any way it could to support further studies,” he said.

The group maintains that scientific studies have shown no health risks from the chemicals in turf infill, and it has more than 50 studies to back up the claim.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) wrote to the EPA in October to evaluate where the agency’s scientific work stands in terms of turf infill, and asking whether the EPA’s last study on the matter, finished in 2009, needs updating.

“These stories and others raise questions among athletes and parents that crumb rubber on artificial turf athletic fields may present a pathway to exposure to one or more carcinogens,” they wrote.

The EPA responded in late December that, although the current body of research shows no such risk, the studies “have various limitations and do not comprehensively address concerns about children’s health risks from exposures to tire crumb.”

The agency said it is working with California officials on a comprehensive evaluation on tire crumb.

The EPA has authority over the matter under the Toxic Substances Control Act. In its letter, it did not say that it plans to ban or restrict use of recycled tire crumb.

More than 12,000 athletic fields use turf in North America, including at high schools, colleges, municipal parks and the stadiums of 13 NFL teams, according to the industry group.