Last month, three federal agencies – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) – came together to announce that they will conduct a comprehensive study of the recycled rubber infill used in thousands of artificial turf fields across the country. We welcome this news and hope this study will show, once and for all, that these playing surfaces are safe, as has been made clear by the extensive research already available on this issue. We commend these agencies for stepping up to the plate to provide clarity for parents and all stakeholders.
While this federal, multi-agency study will hopefully be the end of the story, it is hardly the beginning. Parents and officials across the country need to know that recycled rubber has been studied in detail, and anyone arguing that we’re operating in a vacuum of knowledge is at best uninformed and at worst, misleading the public.
The fact is, the public discourse around recycled rubber infill has been fraught with misconceptions. Unfortunately, speculative and sensationalistic media reports have needlessly stoked fear among parents of children playing on these fields. This has left concerned parents, coaches, congressional representatives, educators and state and local officials wondering about how to evaluate complicated scientific studies and data on the subject. Many of these media reports include a disclaimer that no scientific research has actually shown playing on these fields is connected with any adverse health effects, but, nevertheless, much damage has been done.
It is also important to note that when we talk about recycled rubber infill in synthetic turf fields, we are also talking about the same recycled rubber that is used in a variety of products that are widely considered to be safe, such as sneakers, garden hoses, hospital floors, playground surfaces, and an array of other uses. The recycled rubber industry and the artificial turf industry regularly test their products to ensure that they are safe. In fact, recycled rubber used as infill for fields and playgrounds is routinely tested against EPA standards for soils and both the CPSC and European safety standards for toys. To say that inert rubber, when turned into infill for fields, is unsafe is simply not credible.
As an industry, we have consistently said that we support all additional research. At the same time, we strongly reaffirm that the existing studies clearly show that these products are safe and have no link to any health issues.
More than 90 peer-reviewed studies, reports, and evaluations on this question have been issued from academic researchers, state agencies, and independent third-parties and have found no reason for any health concerns associated with playing on these fields or other surfaces. These studies have looked at a wide range of questions, chemicals, potential exposure pathways, and potential for ingestion.
Let’s hope that reasonable, scientific analysis prevails in this debate, and that it ultimately trumps unscientific speculation. We hope the federal government’s involvement, which we have been encouraging for years, will settle this matter, put parents’ minds at ease, and validate past and recent due diligence by public officials. We also hope that this study will address the right questions in a comprehensive way so that no further questions remain. As this federal research action plan moves ahead, we look forward to coordinating with the agencies as well as other stakeholders to ensure that science prevails.
Bigelow is president of the Recycled Rubber Council. Garver is president of the Synthetic Turf Council. Reddy is managing partner at Sprinturf and is a founding member of the Safe Fields Alliance.