“We practice here, we eat lunch here,” Arroyo said. “Everybody does that. It’s a family park.”

Scrap tire mulch cushions the ground under the play set that President Barack Obama’s daughters use at the White House. It was recommended by the National Recreation and Park Association, which relies on the industry’s safety assurances and recommendations by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for cushioning the impact of falls, said Richard Dolesh, public policy officer for the park association.

But New York City officials say their new sports fields no longer will use tire crumbs. Connecticut asked the EPA to study the matter shortly after the EPA’s Denver regional office recommended the same.

The EPA memo was sent to Washington, D.C., from the Denver office in January 2008, saying that until more was known, the EPA should take a neutral stance instead of sanctioning recycled tires for play areas. The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, were provided to the Associated Press by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group that objects to the EPA’s endorsement of using recycled tires without a broad scientific risk evaluation.

“It appears that there are valid reasons to take a broader perspective of all potential risks associated with crumb rubber” through a full-blown health study, said the memo from Assistant Regional Administrator Stephen Tuber.

Withdrawing the EPA’s endorsement would be premature, EPA spokesman Dale Kemery said.

“Nobody has the evidence at this point” to scientifically justify pulling back, he said.

Along with its own research, the agency will consider studies in New Jersey, California, Connecticut, and New York to determine whether more testing is needed. A shortcoming of EPA’s study is the small number of locations examined, according to the documents.

The Synthetic Turf Council, an advocacy trade group, says laboratory-based claims of toxicity don’t reflect actual conditions.

“The science is clear that synthetic turf crumb rubber infill fields do not present a human health or environmental risk,” said Rick Doyle, president of the group.

The CPSC concluded last summer that synthetic fields pose no lead hazard for kids. It tested turf fibers for lead at a handful of fields. It did not examine chemicals in tire crumbs interspersed with the turf, or playgrounds where children handle mulch made from shredded tires.

A health advisory from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said older fields may be riskier for lead as wear kicks up turf dust. Not all turf fibers contain lead.
The CDC urges eliminating all nonessential uses of lead, which can cause neurological damage in children.

Chemicals in recycled tires could vary by location because tire manufacturers differ, EPA scientists said.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who had criticized the CPSC’s effort and pressed the EPA for a comprehensive investigation, welcomed the environmental agency’s role.

“This is not about creating panic among parents or calling for the closure of fields made from synthetic turf,” she said in an eMail message. But people “need accurate answers about the safety and health effects of these fields to make the best possible decisions about where children and others are playing.”

Links:

Environmental Protection Agency

National Recreation and Park Association

Consumer Product Safety Commission

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

Synthetic Turf Council

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention