Turf Study’s Risk Estimates Modified to Avoid Alarming Public

Aug 5th, 2010 | By | Category: Artificial turf, Health, Pollution, Stormwater Runoff

Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI) was astonished to learn that despite the significant health and safety concerns shown in the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Artificial Turf Study, the state agency was urged to re-frame its press release so as not to alarm the public.

Unbelievably, the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE), which performed the study’s peer review, advised that the findings of the artificial turf study  “be softened”  to avoid causing the public to be alarmed.

CASE urged the DPH to change its press release headline from “The Results Indicate Cancer Risks Slightly Above de Minimis Levels for All Scenarios Evaluated” to the more reassuring headline, “Result of State Artificial Turf Study: No Elevated Health Risk.”

The CASE summary urged the DPH:

“To revise its risk assessment and then present its findings with appropriate cautions. At the least, the various assumptions underlying the risk assessment should be compiled and presented in a manner so that they can be understood by non-scientists (e.g., parents and journalists) reading the report,”

Case continued, “[We are] very aware of the shrinking resources available to support our children’s and recreation activities. It is almost certain that the ‘headline’ conclusion of the CT Department of Public Health (DPH) report will become the focus of media reports and will unnecessarily frighten parents as well as school and municipal supervisors. Parents may be motivated to withdraw their children from beneficial athletic activities, and schools and towns will consider the financially wasteful removal of existing fields. This would be an unfortunate result, one that would likely pose greater risks to the welfare of Connecticut than the continued use of outdoor Artificial Turf Fields.”

Testing of the artificial turf fields took place last summer when temperatures were unusually cool, between 70 and 80 degrees.  EHHI points out that this summer temperatures have consistently reached 90 degrees with fields frequently exceeding temperatures over 135 degrees. If the testing had been done this summer, offgassing of chemicals would have been higher and health risks shown in the report would have been higher.  Although new fields offgas more chemicals, all the fields tested were two years old or older.

According to the DPH’s press release and executive summary, many toxic chemicals were found in the fields. “The field investigation detected a variety of compounds that were present above the fields at concentrations greater than the range seen in background samples. Based upon the pattern of detection, it is considered likely that benzothiazole, acetone, toluene, methyl ethyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone, butylated hydroxytoluene, naphthalenes and several other [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons] PAHs were field-related, with other detected chemicals less certain to be field related. For example, benzene, methylene chloride, methyl chloride and acrolein were detected only in personal monitoring samples and not in the stationary samplers placed just above the field.”

The laboratory testing found numerous toxic chemicals off-gasing from the crumb rubber. According to their report, ”The laboratory studies showed offgassing of numerous compounds including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (particularly naphthalenes), VOCs (e.g., benzene, hexane, methylene chloride, styrene, toluene), and rubber-related SVOCs (benzothiazole, tert-octylphenol, butylated hydroxytoluene). The primary constituent detected by both laboratories was benzothiazole. Pre-weathering the crumb rubber outdoors for ten weeks decreased the volatile emissions 20-80%.”

The report went on to say that indoor synthetic turf fields are offgassing toxic chemicals at high enough levels for the DPH to call for greater ventilation of such facilities. “However, it would be prudent for building operators to provide adequate ventilation to prevent a buildup of rubber-related VOCs and SVOCs at indoor fields. New indoor fields should consider alternatives to crumb rubber infill as a cushioning agent.”

The study showed very high variability in the levels of toxins that were found in each field. Since there are 40,000 tires in each field, enormous variability of toxins would be expected.

The stormwater sampling detected various metals and semi-volatile compounds. Zinc was found in high enough levels to cause risks to surface waters and aquatic organisms. “Three samples exhibited acute toxicity for both Daphnia pulex and Pimephales promelas. The only analyte in the stormwater detected in concentrations exceeding acute aquatic toxicity criteria for surface waters was zinc. Zinc exceedences of the acute criteria were detected in the same three stormwater samples that exhibited acute toxicity for both Daphnia pulex and Pimephales promelas. These results showed that there is a potential risk to surface waters and aquatic organisms associated with whole effluent and zinc toxicity of storm-water runoff from artificial turf fields.” The results of the ground water sampling documented in this press release leads us to not only believe ground up rubber tires are not good for children, but are also not good for the environment.

There is nothing in this press release and executive summary that reduces EHHI’s concern about children playing on ground-up rubber tires. The study looked at the safety of chemical exposures one chemical at a time and yet it is clear from this study that the exposures are to many chemicals at the same time. If the study had been conducted when the ambient temperatures had been more in line with normal July temperatures in Connecticut, the off gassing of chemicals would have been greater and  that would have pushed the risk levels higher. As well, the data shows that the more people playing on a field will cause more chemicals to be released from the crumb rubber, as the players impacts on the turf causes more toxins to be released into the air.  The data collected in this study is very important; EHHI’s strong disagreement is with the interpretation of that data.


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