Playground "Crumb Rubber" Getting Second Look

Popular alternative to grass could be harmful to kids

Thursday, Jun 4, 2009  |  Updated 11:30 AM PDT
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Playground "Crumb Rubber" Getting Second Look

AP

The effort to give kids a safe place to land when they fall, jump or skid at playgrounds and sports fields might be harming them, some say.

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has endorsed the use of ground-up tires to cushion the surfaces of children's playgrounds and sports fields -- a decision now being reconsidered because of concerns among the agency's own scientists about possible health threats.

The concerns are disclosed in internal agency documents about a study the EPA is conducting of air and surface samples at four fields and playgrounds that use recycled tires -- the same material that cushions the ground under the Obama family's new play set at the White House.

Recycled-rubber surfaces have been popular for decreasing playground injuries and providing resiliency and cheap, weatherproof maintenance. But doubts were raised by research suggesting potential hazards from repeated exposure to bits of shredded tire that can contain carcinogens and other chemicals, according to the documents.

The EPA scientists cited gaps in scientific evidence, despite other reviews showing little or no health concern. They urged their superiors to conduct a broad health study to inform parents on kids' safety.

Communities from New Jersey to Oregon have raised concerns about children touching, swallowing or inhaling lead, metals and chemicals like benzene, zinc and breathable particles from synthetic fields and play yards.

Last week, New York state officials said they found no significant health or environmental concerns in a study of leaching and breathable air above sports fields with so-called tire crumb, tiny rubber infill pellets that help anchor the synthetic grass blades. Other local studies have reached similar conclusions, examining artificial grass or tire crumb. Several have recommended additional research.

Results from the agency's limited study, which began last year, are expected within weeks.

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