Tuesday, November 10, 2015

EPA Misses Congressional Deadline For Artificial Turf Safety Response


EPA Misses Congressional Deadline For Artificial Turf Safety Response

Traffic cop at the intersection of money and sports

A worker displays crumb rubber for a photograph at the Emterra Tire Recycling facility in Brampton, Ontario, Canada,Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg
Two weeks ago, the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator looking for more information about the safety of crumb rubber fields. The deadline for the response was November 6. 
The EPA failed to adhere to the deadline. On Friday, EPA spokesperson Liz Purchia told NBC News that the agency was “in the process of responding” to the Energy Committee’s list of questions.
After the congressional letter was sent to the EPA, two senators urged federal officials to lead an “independent investigation into the health risks of crumb rubber” turf, a surface made of recycled tires used on playgrounds and athletic fields across the country, according to NBC. The full letter can be seen here.
Democratic senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Bill Nelson of Florida sent a letter to Chairman Elliot Kaye of the Consumer Product Safety Commission asking the CPSC to “devote additional resources to conclusively determine whether these products can be safely played on by young children and people of all ages.”
In May, Kaye testified before congress regarding the CPSC’s stance on the stance on the safety of artificial turf. His response to representative Pallone is incredible. He basically says that a 2008 report that said crumb rubber used in artificial turf field “is safe” did not mean to convey to parents that the turf fields “were safe to play on.” and that the 2008 report does not reflect the CPSC’s current views. You can watch his testimony below.
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But the CPSC seems to be moving in the opposite direction of what congress and the senate would like. Last week, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals, reported that the CPSC has decided not to enforce toxic lead limits required by law for children’s products in artificial turf playgrounds, and that  the CPSC has been unable to supply a cogent explanation for this action, even in the face of litigation demanding relevant records. 



Kaye’s testimony is consistent with a letter the CPSC sent to senator Elizabeth Warren in July in response to questions the Town of Medway Board of Health regarding crumb rubber in artificial turf. In part, the letter to senator Warren says “the agency is not in a position to comment on the potential health risks from crumb rubber infill on artificial surfaces.”

But the letter also says, “Regarding the Town of Medway Board of Health’s reference to a review study of crumb rubber, in 2013, CPSC staff informed PEER that our Office of Compliance wold undertake a review and determine whether any enforcement action was appropriate regarding the issue. Upon further exploration, Compliance staff concluded, at that time, specific product enforcement was unlikely to be the best option, based upon the need for individual health assessments.”
So what the agency said in 2008 doesn’t mean artificial turf is safe. But the CPSC also won’t say that turf is not safe. And they don’t have, nor are they likely to ever have, enough information to rule on the safety of artificial turf.
The House and Senate need answers.

FULL ARTICLE ON FORBES website: http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2015/11/09/epa-misses-congressional-deadline-for-artificial-turf-safety/#421ebe539cb2

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Turf fields: Medway health board recommends signs, regulations

MEDWAY - After months of debate over the safety of artificial turf fields, the Board of Health voted Monday to recommend placing minimal-language signs on the three fields and to work with the parks department and school district to draft a policy or regulation.
The debate comes months after an NBC News report about the research of Amy Griffin, a soccer coach at the University of Washington who has compiled a list of soccer players – who played on turf – that have developed cancer.
Since then, the state Department of Health, citing several recent studies in other states, said that adverse health effects are not likely.
“Although exhaustive research has not been completed, the available studies have shown that although (artificial turf field) components contain chemicals in the material itself, exposure opportunities at levels measured do not suggest that health effects are likely,” the document reads.
But opponents of artificial turf in town also cite the ability for artificial turf fields to reach extreme temperature during hot and humid weather.
Tracy Stewart, who has been among the most vocal in the debate, sent Health Agent Stephanie Bacon documents recording surface temperatures of the town’s three turf fields, and in each case, the temperature on the turf field reached well over 130 degrees while the air temperature was in the low 80s.
However, Board of Health Chairman Michael Heavey said the recordings may not be entirely accurate, as the devise used was an infrared thermometer, which does not measure air temperature.
“It’s more about what the ambient temperature around (the turf) is,” he said.
Parks Commissioner Paul Mahoney said temperatures on the running track and tennis courts also become very hot in the summer.
“Without doing proper testing I think it’s irresponsible to continually hammer that,” he said, adding that he does not have a “problem with a sign” simply stating that the fields can become hot.
Athletic Director Rob Pearl said Hanlon Field, the main football field at the high school, has been there for more than 10 years, and a death on the field was attributed to a student’s heart condition.
Pearl added that coaches and trainers are given a handbook of safety guidelines regarding concussion, player safety and heat acclimation.
“All coaches have to follow and look at what the rules and guidelines are,” he said.
Resident Allan White, a youth soccer coach, said he’s been to Board of Selectmen, School Committee and Board of Health meetings and the “community is not working together” on the issue.
“Someone needs to get past that,” he said. “It’s about what is right for the kids and parents of Medway.”
Bacon said she will contact Interim Superintendent Armand Pires to work on drafting a regulation or policy and to set up a joint meeting between the Board of Health, the Parks Commission and the School Committee.
Zachary Comeau can be reached at 508-634-7556 and zcomeau@wickedlocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZComeau_MDN.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Panelists address potential health hazards of crumb rubber

By Henry Schwan

June 24. 2015 11:24AM

Dr. David Brown had a definitive answer Tuesday night for those concerned about artificial playing fields and children’s safety.
“You’re responsible,” Brown told parents at a public forum at Concord-Carlisle High School.
Brown is the director of public health toxicology at Environment & Human Health, Inc. in Westport, Connecticut, and he was one of four panelists who spoke about the potential health dangers of crumb rubber, which is at the root of a heated debate in Concord.
Grass Fields for Safe Sports hosted the forum because it believes crumb rubber – small pellets made from recycled tires - contains deadly toxins linked to cancer, and it wants them removed from the design plans for a new artificial turf football field that broke ground earlier this month at the high school.
Supporters of crumb rubber presented their position at a public information session at the high school on June 24, the following night, after this week’s Concord Journal had gone to press.
Tuesday night’s panel also included: Guive Mirfendereski, managing editor of Synturf.org; Rachel Massey, senior associate director and policy program manager at the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute; and Kurt Tramposch, an environmental health planner. About 100 people attended.
Opponents of crumb rubber want an organic infill for the new football field, such as cork or coconut husks.
However, when a parent asked the panel if any of the alternatives to crumb rubber have been successful, Brown said, “The problem is that we have to go back to the original problem of artificial turf, which is, it hasn’t been properly tested.”
“You have to start with what is in the product,” he added. “I’ve seen no evidence that anyone has done that (with alternative infill), and you shouldn’t put children on an untested product.”
“I agree with him,” Grass Fields for Safe Sports member Beverely Ridpath said after the forum. “If the stuff has not been tested, then we should go for grass, but is it possible for us to get those holes filled back in? I don’t know, we’re having a real hard time even stopping the crumb rubber. I just wish that the process had been more open from the beginning, and we had been better informed.”
Brown said all studies show that rubber, including crumb rubber, contains dangerous carcinogens.
Massey said, “If a chemical is a carcinogen, there is no safe threshold for exposure to that chemical… and any exposure to a carcinogen will have some effect on your lifetime possibility of developing cancer.”
Concord resident Tim Rose told the panel he was “irritated” by Brown’s remarks that implied past studies on crumb rubber have no value.
“(Brown) is absolutely right,” Rose said. “You can’t say (crumb rubber) is safe from those studies, but the studies measured things such as these carcinogen levels in the atmosphere with people playing on the fields, and when they measured those, they were below the regulatory limits that have been set by the government or the state. Those experiments are valid.” 
Rose said he supports an alternative infill.
“That’s why I’m here,” he said.
It was announced that a representative from GeoTurf, a supplier of turf fields with organic infills, did not attend the forum because of a family obligation.
A Grass Fields for Safe Sports representative told parents that “there is still time to switch to an alternative infill, and the regional school committee can make the decision.”
When asked what he would tell the regional school committee, Brown said, “I would recommend they take the time to study it. It wouldn’t just be ‘call more people and talk to them.’ I would assemble a group who indeed know how to think about this health issue, and decide what sort of things are appropriate decisions.”
“If a group of physicians, for example, would come in and say to you, ‘We can’t find a way to do it safely.’ that would be a very important piece of information to have before you go anywhere.”

Follow Henry on Twitter @henrycojo.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

NECN: Local Towns Pushing Back Against Artificial Turf Fields

Local Towns Pushing Back Against Artificial Turf Fields

More expensive, nontoxic alternatives are being looked at in some cases

Local Towns Pushing Back Against Artificial Turf Fields
FILE - Getty Images

Artificial turf fields, cushioned with recycled crushed tires and increasingly in demand for U.S. athletic complexes, are getting some serious pushback.
In Swampscott last week, town meeting members approved plans to install a new synthetic field with silica sand, a more expensive product touted as a nontoxic alternative to the small rubber pellets known as crumb rubber ubiquitous on thousands of synthetic fields across Massachusetts and the nation.
In Medway, a small but vocal group of parents are pushing for warning signs to be installed near recently built artificial turf fields to warn parents about alleged health risks in the ant-size rubber pieces that cushion the bright synthetic grass.
And in Concord, more than 750 residents crowded into a heated town meeting in April to debate a two-year study and moratorium on artificial turf – a battle that crumb rubber opponents lost but left many energized and looking toward pushing for a statewide referendum.
Increasingly, Bay State towns – like many places nationwide – are debating costly plans to build new, or refurbish old, artificial turf fields, and sports enthusiasts who love the vivid-green fields for their durability and easy maintenance are bracing for new opposition from parents of budding soccer, lacrosse and football players about the safety of crumb rubber pellets.
The pellets, made up of pulverized tire bits and used to cushion fields and anchor synthetic grass, are known to contain possible carcinogens like arsenic, benzene and lead, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. As opposition mounts, some consider the fields a solid waste problem, and question what towns would do with the thousands of pounds of crushed tires if the issue reaches a tipping point. The momentum of concern has pushed the California legislature to consider legislation prohibiting the use of state funds to build new fields with recycled tires and that would require towns and cities to examine cleaner alternatives before launching a new project. The Los Angeles Unified School District and the New York City Parks Departments already have stopped construction of new fields with crumb rubber following past concern about lead content.
Artificial turf advocates say there are multiple studies that show fields are safe, while critics argue that there are no conclusive tests to prove such claims and that waiting for definitive evidence of a health hazard leaves children unprotected.
More than 300 such fields have been built in Massachusetts during the past decade and they are becoming a coveted sports alternative for student athletes in towns from Boston to Attleboro, New Bedford to Springfield, according to a survey of field construction companies carried out by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. Athletes who play on the fields are well acquainted with the black pellets – a spray of which is often kicked up by bouncing balls and running children, and gets into cleats and tracked into homes and mixed with laundry after practice.
On a recent spring evening in Medway, a group of fourth-grade girls tested out the town’s new bright-emerald carpet, remarking about the pellets that flew in the air as they sprinted and clung to their orange socks. One pig-tailed girl said the grains were sticking to her water bottle; another admitted she accidentally swallowed a pellet. “It tastes bad,’’ she said.
“Parents are sending their kids off to this stuff blindly,” said Tracy Stewart, a Medway mother who is part of a group that opposed fields in her town of 13,000. She is unwilling to let her daughter play on artificial turf, she said: “When you are looking at something that says it contains known carcinogens, I’m not willing to take a risk.”
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health stepped into the debate anew in March, issuing an eight-page letter detailing recent scientific studies that minimize concerns about cancer risk. Suzanne K. Condon, associate commissioner and director of the Bureau of Environmental Health, wrote that “the scientific literature continues to suggest that exposure opportunities to artificial turf fields are not generally expected to result in health effects.”
But she said that the state recommends “common sense” to minimize exposure to chemicals that may be in crumb rubber, including washing hands after playing, and taking shoes off before entering homes. However, Condon told NECIR she doesn’t support requiring towns to put up warning signs because it could set off unneeded alarm: “We don’t believe there is a risk for the general population. We don’t even really believe there is appreciable lead for young children.”
The state letter prompted a quick response from a Connecticut-based nonprofit pushing a national turf moratorium until more studies can be done. David Brown, director of public health toxicology for the nonprofit Environment and Human Health, Inc., warned that as more is invested in artificial fields, it will be harder for state and local officials to change their position even if new information shows harm.
“A natural experiment is being conducted in which thousands of children are being exposed on playing fields to rubber,’’ said Brown, a former chief of Environmental Epidemiology and Occupational Health at Connecticut's Department of Health. “Given the high stakes, it is prudent to take action to protect children from this known hazard rather than wait for definitive evidence of harm.”
Concerns have simmered for years but heated up nationwide last fall with news that Amy Griffin, a University of Washington assistant women’s soccer coach, had collected a list of soccer goalies – athletes she believes get more skin contact with crumb rubber – stricken with cancer, mostly blood-related lymphomas. By late April, Griffin said her list had grown to 79 goalkeepers from across the US, plus 59 other athletes who play on turf.
The synthetic turf stakes are ratcheting up because towns and public schools are embracing the fields to meet expanding demand for playing time from troops of young athletes. The number of fields has more than doubled nationwide since 2009 – from 4,500 to 11,000 – and crumb rubber is used in 98 percent of them, according to the EPA and the Georgia-based Synthetic Turf Council, an industry group.
Advocates argue that turf fields are cheaper than natural options, requiring no irrigation, fertilizers or mowing. About 25,000 tires are used to create a field at a cost of $750,000 to $900,000, with about $5,000 in annual maintenance expenses, according to FieldTurf, a Montreal-based company that has built 7,000 fields in North America since the mid 1990s.
Robert Pearl, Medway High School athletic director, said most of the schools in his league built synthetic fields during the past decade. Officials from three that haven’t – Millis, Norton and Sharon – have been out to visit Medway’s project, he said. Pearl echoes supporters’ views that the new fields not only are great for athletes but also a green alternative. The Synthetic Turf Council boasts that the use of crumb rubber in fields and landscaping has kept more than 105 million used tires out of landfills. “I look at it as great for the environment,” Pearl said. But others worry that the public later will regret it when its time to clean up fields, which last about eight years. “We’re postponing a huge solid waste problem,” said Kyla Bennett, regional director of the national nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Indeed, considering heightened concern about crumb rubber, some municipalities like Worcester already are analyzing what to do with aging artificial turf fields. Worcester Public Schools athletic director David Shea said the city, which is just beginning to grapple with what to do with its 8-year-old field, plans to consider any new health concerns or technology before making a costly decision. “We would want to talk to all parties involved,” he said.
Supporters cite studies by government groups like the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency to bolster assertions that the fields are safe. But five years after the CPSC’s 2008 review, entitled “CPSC Staff Finds Synthetic Turf Fields OK to Install, OK to Play On,” the federal agency posted a pink disclaimer noting the study’s limits, including its sample size and that it only analyzed lead levels.
Alexander Filip, a CPSC spokesman, said that the disclaimer was added to clarify that the report could not “be used to determine the safety of today’s artificial turf and its components.”
Similarly, the EPA stepped back from its own 2009 safety assurances, and now notes on its website that the “very limited nature of this study” makes it impossible to “extend the results beyond the four study sites or to reach any more comprehensive conclusions without the consideration of additional data.” Laura Allen, EPA deputy press secretary, said the federal study was intended to determine a testing method for a larger study – but more testing needs to be done. She declined to comment about whether the federal agency plans to carry out more research: “The decision to use tire crumb remains a state and local decision.”
As debate intensifies, more communities are looking alternatives. Tom Younger, Swampscott town administrator, said town officials supported sand infill for their field to quell health concerns about crumb rubber. In Newburyport, officials in February also elected to use sand, which would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more than a planned $2.2 million crumb rubber field, according to the Newburyport Parks Department.
Concord resident Debbie Barr, who says she opposes the fields based on financial, health and environmental concerns, said she was heartened by the lively discussion during last month’s town meeting and hopes to harness the attention to push for a local and statewide moratorium.
Barr, who is a member of the nonprofit Concord Climate Action Network, said she has been talking to concerned groups in other towns and wants to see more research. “We have a number of young parents who are saying we don’t want our kids to be playing on artificial turf,’’ she said. “This is a statewide problem.”
Jenifer McKim is a reporter at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, and independent, nonprofit news center based at Boston University and WGBH News. She can be reached at jmckim@bu.edu. Follow her on Twitter at @jbmckim. To get more great journalism from NECIR, follow us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our email list.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Medway Board of Health hears turf concerns

MEDWAY - Before it considers requiring signs warning of potential health risks to be placed on artificial turf fields in town, the Board of Health is reviewing information received from a group of concerned residents.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the board met with several residents who have been asking the town to do more research into the crumb rubber infill of the artificial turf fields.
Crumb rubber, which is essentially tiny pieces of recycled tires, provides stability and cushioning to the synthetic turf that was recently installed on two new fields at the high school. That $4.2 million project included replacing the turf on Hanlon Field, which was also filled with crumb rubber.
At the meeting, the group of residents asked the board to consider requiring signs at fields warning of the health risks some have associated with turf and crumb rubber.
Tracy Stewart, one of the residents involved, referenced signs at fields in other communities in different states that warn of harmful chemicals in the crumb rubber and of rising temperatures on the fields. Stewart and the group of residents provided 31 pages of information to the board, including a list of at least four chemicals in crumb rubber that are known carcinogens.
The temperature on the fields, she added, can reach over 130 degrees, causing the release of harmful chemicals in crumb rubber.
The concern comes after an NBC News story aired in October based on the testimony of an associate head coach for the University of Washington’s women’s soccer team, Amy Griffin. In the report, Griffin said she discovered “a stream of kids” who have played on artificial turf with crumb rubber infill have been diagnosed with cancer. She compiled a list of 38 American soccer players who have developed blood cancers like lymphoma and leukemia.
Health Agent Stephanie Bacon said the board is reviewing the information provided by the residents before it even considers any action.
“It’s all stuff that the board has to definitely sit down and go through,” she said.
Bacon said more research has to be done, as there have been no credible scientific studies linking crumb rubber and artificial turf to cancer to “hang your hat on.”
“Everything is inconclusive,” she said. “Even when people have spent a lot of time on studies having to do with synthetic turf, there are so many bridges and gaps in the data.”
Stewart, however, said there is “definitely” information that proves the temperature on the fields can escalate to well above 100 degrees on warm days.
“Based on that alone, at the very least, the town should be posting something,” she said. “I think we owe that to parents and children of our community so they have the option to make a decision for their children.”
Zachary Comeau can be reached at 508-634-7556 and zcomeau@wickedlocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZComeau_MDN.