Nancy Alderman, President, Environment and Human Health, Inc.

OP-Ed ---  Why, when synthetic turf fields contain tires that have numerous carcinogens and respiratory toxins, do schools and towns continue to install them?

Why is it, when each synthetic turf field contains 40,000 ground-up used rubber tires that contain many toxic compounds, do schools and towns continue to think it is a good idea to install them?

And why, when scientists have presented the facts about the toxicity of synthetic turf fields, have government agencies at all levels, not been willing to listen and have not worked to protect our children and our athletes? 

Rubber tires contain a number of carcinogens and lung irritants.  They contain Carbon black, Benzene, Acetone, and 1,3-butadiene to name just a few carcinogens. Rubber tires also contain Benzothiazole and 4-(t-octyl)phenols both respiratory toxins.  The government knows a lot about the harmful effect that tires have on health because government has studied the manufacturing of tires and how to [protect] the workers in tire manufacturing plants. 

The National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH) has written,"Historically, cancer has been the chronic disease most frequently reported in cohort studies of rubber products workers.  .......  The principal adverse health effects reported were cancer and respiratory effects (e.g., reductions in pulmonary function, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and other respiratory symptoms)."  

The first question asked is why is it when people know that there are harmful chemicals in tires do they allow their children to play on fields that contain them?  One answer is because industry claims their fields are safe and industry has drowned out the scientists and parents who are claiming the fields are not safe.  As well, there have been a number of inadequate studies that get referred to over and over again and some studies that have incriminating evidence that never [get] read - as only the [study's] press release gets looked at which presents a rosier picture than the actual study would warrant.

Those who vote to install the synthetic turf fields claim- there might be toxins in the fields but they do not affect the players - the players do not eat the tire crumbs. True, they do not eat the tire crumbs but --- as the fields are played on the tire crumbs break down into dust and the dust is then inhaled by the players.  The dust contains the toxic chemicals which are delivered from the lungs into the entire body.

The next question often asked by proponents of synthetic turf fields is - if the fields are dangerous -- why aren't we seeing more sick people?  The answer is because there is no government agency or independent entity that is collecting the data on cancer and respiratory cases connected to these fields.  It wasn't until Amy Griffin, an assistant coach at the University of Washington, happened only by chance,  to find 38 soccer players with lymphomas through her cancer clinic.  Think how many other cases there might be if anyone was collecting the data.

If the government knew a lot about the health effects from rubber tires, why have they sat-by and let rubber tires be shredded and put in both toddler playgrounds and synthetic turf fields - both places where our children play?

The state and federal governments are responsible for overseeing the disposal of used tires.  There is one used tire for every person in the United States each and every year.  If the tires are shredded-up and put where children play -- then their job is done.

In 2007, synthetic turf fields were just beginning to be installed in Connecticut.  Being a Connecticut based non-profit, Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI) was concerned enough about these fields that it took samples of the rubber tire infill to a state laboratory.  That laboratory found both carcinogens and respiratory toxins in the crumb rubber.  Because of that findingEHHI asked the state for a moratorium on installing any new synthetic fields in the state.  The CT Department of Health would not back us up and so synthetic turf field installations continued throughout the state.

Now,  seven years later,   there are 11,000 artificial turf fields installed all over this country, with more being proposed.  As well, in the ensuing years, large industries surrounding synthetic turf fields have grown up. The tire-shredding industries and the synthetic turf industries are extensive and powerful today. They create many of their own studies that show the safety of their products and they attest that their fields are cheaper to maintain than grass, when actually independent academic studies show that grass is actually cheaper to maintain. These industries have powerful lobbying capabilities and their voices drum out those of scientists and citizens who have been sounding the alarm for years.

We are subjecting a whole generation of children to the chemical exposures from shredded rubber tires.  For some, the exposures start when they are just toddlers on their playgrounds,  and then as they grow up through their school years and finally into college.  All this without government either testing the safety of the shredded tires or the CDC tracking the health effects from the exposures. 

The fact that there are a number of lymphomas reported among the soccer players is significant,  as lymphomas are cancers that are heavily influenced by environmental factors.

The presence of a single type of tumor, or cancer,  rather than the normal distribution of cancers expected in the overall population of that age group, is in itself an indication that the affected population is being exposed to the same chemical carcinogens.

This country owes its children and its athletes better care than this.   First and foremost we need to collect the numbers of students and athletes who are getting either cancer or respiratory diseases [from] these fields.

Secondly,  we need a congressional hearing to better understand how and why the government has stood by and let a toxic material be placed where our children are playing.

People can choose not to smoke if they wish to protect their health.  Our children are not in a position to protect themselves from the toxins in synthetic turf fields that adults have chosen to put them on. 

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Nancy Alderman, MES, President of Environment and Human Health, Inc.; Past member of the Governor's Pollution Prevention Task Force; Past member of the National Board of Environmental Defense; Recipient of the CT Bar Association, Environmental Law Section's, Clyde Fisher Award, given in recognition of significant contributions to the preservation of environmental quality through work in the fields of environmental law, environmental protection or environmental planning, and the New England Public Health Association's Robert C. Huestis/Eric Mood Award given to individuals for outstanding contributions to public health in the environmental health area.