When Elssa Green took her grandchildren to play at the A.W. Cox Middle School playground, something seemed off.
“My first reaction was wondering what smelled so strange,” Green said. “It was like walking into a tire store.”
The playground does not have wood chips spread out below the equipment; it has crumb rubber mulch instead. Green said her grandchildren had black marks on their skin from the surface.
“What I saw is my granddaughter picking it up and her hands were black,” Green said. “Then she put it in her mouth and I freaked out.”
Green said she has not taken her grandchildren back to the A.W. Cox playground. The crumb rubber mulch is not only used for playgrounds. It is commonly used as a fill on synthetic turf athletic fields.
Guilford Superintendent Paul Freeman said the surface is safe. He said the Connecticut Department of Public Health has tested the surface and said it is suitable for children.
“We rely on the Connecticut Department of Public Health,” Freeman said. “They’ve got a site that recommends proper fills used by kids.”
Still, some people do not agree and want their voices heard. Kenneth Chain, a Guilford resident, wrote a Letter to the Editor in the New Haven Register after learning of the new multipurpose synthetic turf field that will be installed at Guilford High School. In his letter, he compared crumb rubber turf fields to tire dumps.
“If it’s not a known fact if it’s safe or not safe. In the long run, it’s better to be safe than sorry,” Chain said.
Nancy Alderman, president of North Haven-based Environment and Human Health Inc., also wrote a letter to the editor in the New Haven Register and believes the fields are not safe. Alderman recently spoke at a Hamden Inland Wetlands Commission against a proposed crumb rubber synthetic turf field at Hamden High School.
“Tires are not designed to be put wherever children play,” Alderman said.
Alderman said tests the Department of Public Health and the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection were incomplete. She said the surfaces have up to 12 carcinogens and there is no difference between what is used at the turf fields or the playgrounds.
“It is all the same material cut up in different sizes,” Alderman said. “These are waste tires from all over the country from all different cars and trucks all thrown in together and cut up in different sizes.”
Sherman Katz, a North Haven resident, has also written a letter to the Register and spoke out on the potential dangers of crumb rubber. He said state and local government won’t listen until they are held accountable.
“In my mind, someone has to go to the elected officials in a town and say ‘if my child has cancer, we can come back and sue you,'” Katz said.
So far no one has done that, or even complained, according to Guilford Standing Fields Committee Chairman Paul Schmidt. Guilford High School already has a crumb rubber turf field and said the school would be open to using the same materials for their new multipurpose field.
He said there have been no complaints or health issues reported from the turf field, which has been used since 2008.
“Our field was tested independently, both under weather for runoff and strong sunlight, and we were comfortable with the results based on health parameters,” Schmidt said.
The same goes for Madison schools, according to the Hand High School athletic director, Craig Semple. He said the crumb rubber turf fields at schools in town are tested and there have been no complaints from students about health issues.
“We have a turf consultant in our district,” Semple said. “We go through him. There are materials we want to use in our turf field and we use our turf consultant.”
However, residents on the Shoreline, and across the state, are weary that health issues could appear later in life, according to Alderman. She said cancer statistics have shown that soccer players, and specifically goalkeepers, are at a high risk of cancer from playing on these fields.
Alderman said out of the 159 soccer players who are known to have cancer in this country, 97 of them are goalkeepers. Out of those 97, 63 have lymphoma and 34 have leukemia, according to Alderman. She said in the last six months there have been 32 more soccer players diagnosed with cancer.
Alderman said soccer players could be more at risk than other outdoor sports played on crumb rubber synthetic turf, like football and lacrosse, because soccer players only wear a T-shirt and shorts. Also, goalies typically spend more time on the ground, blocking shots at the goal.
“I would like to see our children protected,” Alderman said. “The safest surface for students is grass, there is no safer surface.”
In California, the Los Angeles Unified School District took a major step against the usage of crumb rubber. In 2008, the district conducted lead testing on artificial turfs in response to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory regarding the lead content of the turf blades and rubber fill-in material, according to Elvia Perez Cano, spokeswoman for the LAUSD.
“The District still has some athletic fields with crumb rubber,” Cano said. “But new installations, since about 2009, are built using alternate infill material.”
State Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., D-Branford, said he is also personally against the crumb rubber fill. He said there is some talk that the state could stop allowing bond funds to be used for construction of athletic fields that include the material. However, at this point, he said it is not up to the state to decide what material school districts and towns choose to install.
“I think it does pose a public health hazard,” Kennedy said. “That’s really a decision for local municipalities to make.”
Jeff Ruch, the executive director of Protecting Employees who Protect our Environment, said their organization was able to get the Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission to retract their endorsements of crumb rubber fill.
Ruch said he wants playgrounds treated as a child’s product, which would limit the amount of chemicals used, making it difficult for crumb rubber to be installed. He said once parents see how unsafe crumb rubber is, it can stop being used at other schools and playgrounds, which would be great news for Green and her grandchildren.
by Henry Chisholm, original author, republished with permission of the original publisher the New Haven Register. Article.