The Crumb Rubber under the new playground

Health and Safety Concerns about Crumb Rubber

The Crumb Rubber underlayment was unacceptable to many parents for a variety of reasons. It off-gassed heavily year-round, though it was much stronger in hot weather. The smell had a strong chemical quality to it, similar to industrial solvents and tires. A number of adults and children reacted strongly to the Crumb Rubber after being on the playground for only minutes. Some had allergic reactions and had to get medical attention. Others got headaches and nausea. Enough people reacted strongly enough that the school had an unusually difficult time scheduling volunteers for playground duty during recess. Many parents were convinced that, while there were no definitive studies showing that Crumb Rubber is either harmful or safe, there was enough evidence for them to decide it posed an unacceptable health risk to their children and had to be removed. Samples were sent to a lab for analysis and showed the presence of many heavy metals and known carcinogens as well as a number of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Many of these compounds are not well studied, but noted as cause for concern. The chunks of Crumb Rubber were initially the size of gravel but soon began breaking down to fine dust. On still days, a cloudy haze could be observed around the playground during recess. Chunks of Crumb Rubber migrated all over the school grounds and school building and found their way home with students in their clothes, lunch boxes, hair, ears and mouths. The exposure children were getting could not be described as light. They were breathing it while on the playground and wearing it on their bodies the rest of the day.
In addition to the health issues, many parents were concerned with the fact that the Crumb Rubber discriminated against children with physical disabilities. Being light and loose, it moved around readily and made the whole playground inaccessible to wheel chairs and walkers.
Proponents of the Crumb Rubber noted that it had the highest fall-safety rating, which it does. The problem was that, because it moved around so readily, the children's' normal activity pushed it out of the fall zones leaving too little material to provide the specified fall rating. The maintenance personnel had to spend extra time on a daily basis raking the Crumb Rubber back into the fall zones.
The following is by Jackie Lombardo, member of the Sierra Club Toxics Committee

“We know older turf products contain toxic chemicals associated with asthma, learning disabilities, and cancer. Saying that they are safe because they don’t contain lead is like saying cigarettes are safe because they don’t contain lead. There are many other chemicals that are in this synthetic grass and we don’t know what the effects are going to be not only on children’s health, but also what the effects are on the ground water as well. The Sierra Club understands people’s enthusiasm for a new product that may allow more playing time for children. But with the financial crisis that we are in, [county supervisors] just handed over a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayers’ money without looking into potential problems down the road: problems with water, problems with soil, and potential problems for kids’ health.”

Source: Chiara Canzi, “Turf v. grass: Have county schools rushed to judgment on the safety of synthetic turf?,” in Charlottesville News and Arts, January 13, 2009, available at
The following is an editorial by Newton, Mass. Alderman Ted Hess-Mahan, which appeared in an online publication of The Boston Globe (January 10, 2009). It is available at .

Turf fields still a potential hazard
By Ted Hess-Mahan

Although synthetic in-filled turf has become a popular alternative to natural turf for communities desiring low-maintenance athletic fields that can endure intensive use, synthetic fields are increasingly regarded as potential environmental and health hazards, because of the materials they contain and the high temperatures they generate.

Various governmental agencies have found elevated lead levels in older synthetic fields, causing some communities to close fields or impose moratoriums on installing new ones. While newer turf products generally contain less lead, the crumb rubber “in-fill” made from recycled tires contains not only lead, but also known carcinogens, and phthalates, which can cause birth defects and affect the development of the male reproductive system. Synthetic fields also generate air temperatures exceeding 140 degrees on the playing field, may provide a medium for fungi, mold and bacteria, and have been blamed for transmitting MRSA, a treatment-resistant infection.

Moreover, every synthetic field will eventually require replacement in 10 to 15 years. Each full-sized field may contain well over a hundred tons of crumb rubber, synthetic turf, urethane coating, and other materials that cannot be recycled. Some of these materials are considered “special” or “hazardous” waste, which requires special handling. The cost of disposing of these materials may be in the six figure range per field, a fact which is frequently overlooked in the cost analysis.

It must be acknowledged that, although studies and research into the potential hazards associated with synthetic fields are ongoing, thus far, no definitive conclusions can be drawn. While a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report found no harmful lead levels in some of the newer types of synthetic grass, it also recognized the potential for lead exposure from older, worn synthetic fields exposed to weather and sunlight, and called for “voluntary” industry standards to preclude the use of lead in future products. Conversely, although the crumb rubber in-fill also contains lead, as well as carcinogens and other harmful substances, there is no study conclusively proving actual harm or injury from exposure to these materials in synthetic fields—at least, not yet.