Nancy Alderman, New Haven Register, May 11, 2015

How should the public react to new studies showing that carbon black nanoparticles in rubber tires could be as dangerous as asbestos? These are the same rubber tires that are shredded and placed in toddler playgrounds and synthetic turf fields.

A new study led by the Queen's Medical Research Institute at the University of Edinburg/MRC Center for Inflammation Research in Scotland showed that long, needle-thin carbon nanotubes can lead to lung cancer. Their research reported that these carbon nanotubes could be as harmful as breathing asbestos.

Besides all the carcinogenic chemicals that are in rubber tires, we now know that there are carbon black nanoparticles in these tires, as well. Carbon black makes up 30 percent or more of tires.

When a school is shown to have asbestos, the school normally is shut down until the asbestos is removed. How is it then that government agencies, at all levels, continue to approve the use of shredded-up used rubber tires in spite of all their carcinogens and in spite of the fact that they contain nanoparticles?

Because this nanoparticle study shows that inhaling carbon nanotubes could be as harmful as breathing in asbestos - it also said that its use should be regulated, lest it lead to the same cancer and breathing problems that prompted a ban on the use of asbestos.

Schools, towns, health departments, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have a serious problem. They all claimed that the fields were safe. Because of that, the country now has about 11,000 synthetic turf fields as well as numerous toddler playgrounds with rubber tire mulch. All these fields and playgrounds have been installed with the approvals of town and state health departments as well as the U.S. EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

At the same time that government agencies were saying that the fields were safe, many scientists and public health professionals were saying that they were not safe and that there needed to be a moratorium on placing used, shredded rubber tires where children play. Parents' opposition started, as well, and parents began to fight the installation of synthetic turf fields and playground rubber mulch. In almost every case, the parents and scientists lost the battle, and synthetic turf fields were installed with the approval of school boards, town officials and local and state health departments.

The synthetic turf studies that were cited by those who chose to install synthetic turf fields were inadequate and none of them took into account the issue of carbon black nanoparticles. Many towns hired highly credentialed people who did literary reviews of the same inadequate studies that had been done before, and then they declared the fields to be safe.

Now what is going to happen? Some athletes who have played on synthetic turf for years are reporting blood cancers, and their numbers are growing. Parent opposition also is growing. Will parents start to sue their towns, their schools, their health departments? What will happen to the rubber tire waste when the fields are pulled up? Each synthetic turf field has 40,000 ground-up rubber tires in it. How will towns dispose of the thousands of pounds of shredded rubber tires when the fields are pulled up?

Environment and Human Health Inc. has been sounding the alarm about the dangers of synthetic turf fields since 2007. At that time, we recommended a moratorium on installing any new synthetic turf fields.

We also have recommended that toddlers not play on ground-up rubber tires in their playgrounds. Small children are extremely vulnerable to toxins and they are closer to the ground than adults and therefore closer to the carcinogens and nanoparticles.

Now, with the advancing knowledge of the dangers that shredded rubber tires pose, Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI) recommends that playground rubber mulch be removed immediately from playgrounds and that no new synthetic turf fields be installed.

EHHI also recommends that people write to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and ask that there be a moratorium on using rubber mulch on playgrounds and as infill in synthetic turf fields.

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Click here to read the The New Haven Register Forum article.

Nancy Alderman is president of North Haven-based Environment and Human Health Inc., a 10-member, nonprofit organization composed of doctors, public health professionals and policy experts.