EPA study OKs recycled rubber surfaces
by Mike Breslin
It’s been a long wait for the United States Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) to weigh in on the safety of
recreational products made from recycled tires. Finally,
it released the results of a limited field monitoring
study of artificial turf playing fields and playgrounds
using recycled tire material or tire crumb. EPA plans
to use the study information to help determine the
next step to address questions regarding the safety
of tire crumb infill in recreational fields.
In short, the EPA study found that using the material
does not point to a concern for the agency at this
time. This is another positive reinforcement for this
sector of the recycling industry, which already knew
from numerous laboratory analyses, state studies and
independent field studies that the material posed little
or no environmental danger or health risks.
Liberty Tire Recycling, the country’s largest recycler
of scrap tires processes 110 to 120 million tires per
year. Company president Don Rea commented on the EPA
study, “There has been somewhere between 50 to 100
studies on crumb rubber. There has been so much study
done that it doesn’t seem possible that someone is
going to come up with another conclusion. It would
have been nice if the EPA had just said this stuff
is fine, forget it. If EPA was the least bit suspicious
they would not have said what they said.”
Over the years, shredded and crumb rubber processed from
recycled tires has found its way into many useful recreational
and architectural applications. These include rubberized
ground covers under playground equipment, running track
material, soil additives for playing fields and sports
flooring. Crumb rubber is also used in artificial turf
fields between turf fibers to provide stability and resiliency.
According to the Synthetic Turf Council artificial turf
has been installed in approximately 4,500 American
fields, tracks and playgrounds. Synthetic turf was
originally used in stadiums and on athletic fields
for college and professional sports teams, but now
is also used in municipal parks, golf courses, playgrounds,
on cruise ships, in airports and residences for lawns.
In addition, recycled tires are being processed into
colorized mulches for residential and commercial applications,
a growing market that exposes more people each year
to the material.
This rubberization of surfaces offers many benefits to
help prevent injuries and reduce stress on leg muscles,
ligaments, tendons and joints, and accounts for its
widespread and increased use. This ability to absorb
shock has taken rubberized surfacing into homes, workplaces,
tennis courts, weight rooms, gyms, fitness centers
and even to the equine and bovine worlds. And because
it’s easier to clean and cleans more thoroughly, it’s
more hygienic than other flooring materials such as
wood or concrete.
Cow mats made from recycled tires are increasingly being
used in dairy barns all over North America. Just like
preventing injuries for humans in recreation and sport,
cow mats prevent calves from getting hurt when they
fall on concrete barn floors. The insulating properties
also reduce cold and humidity on concrete floors to
help protect cows against rheumatism and fatigue. Some
diaries even attribute increased milk production to
Abacus Sports Installations, Ltd., for instance, markets
a wide variety of rubberized sports flooring made from
recycled tires. Their seamless, textured equine flooring
for stables is very popular because it’s easier to
clean and minimizes bacteria. It’s even installed on
stable walls and columns for added protection.
Spencer Proud, owner of Abacus said that his customers
have never voiced any concern about the safety of his
company’s products. “We’ve never had any complaints
or issues in over 20-years of contracting. From an
architectural standpoint many of our customers are
interested in earning LEED credits (Leadership in Energy
and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System)
It’s recycled material, very durable, very sustainable.
School boards and everyone else these days wants everything
to be green for very good reasons. Having this recycled
content brings serious contributing points.”
Nevertheless, over the past several years, a number of
concerns have been raised over the use of tire crumb
materials in turf fields and playgrounds.
Parents in Colorado were concerned about children carrying
home small particles of tire crumbs on their clothing.
High levels of lead were detected on some artificial
turf fields in New Jersey. To address various public
concerns, a number of cities and states engaged in
sampling, testing and evaluation of products containing
recycled tire rubber.
In 2007, the California Office of Environmental Health
Hazard Assessment issued a report, Evaluation of Health
Effects of Recycled Waste Tires in Playground and Track
Products. It concluded that there appeared to be little
long-term risk to human health.
In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
issued a low-level public health advisory, due to some
negative publicity surrounding artificial turf.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission investigated reports
of lead contamination from artificial turf and, in
July 2008, concluded that “young children are not at
risk from exposure to lead in these fields.”
A July 2009 California EPA study found no significant
health risk to people who breathe the air above synthetic
turf that contains crumb rubber. The study looked at
the chemicals found in the air above the turf and the
chemicals found in the air upwind from the fields analyzed.
The conclusion: chemicals were found in similar concentrations
in both samples.
A May 2009 study by the New York departments of Environmental
Conservation and Health found that crumb rubber used
in synthetic turf fields poses no significant environmental
threat or health concerns.
Finally, in December, the national response came with
the release of the results of EPA’s limited “scoping
study” of tire crumb. The study consisted of collecting
air and wipe samples at locations near EPA laboratories
in Raleigh, North Carolina, Athens, Georgia, and Cincinnati,
Ohio. Sampling was also was done in Washington, D.C.
Conducted from August to October 2008, the study found
that the concentrations of materials that made up tire
crumb were below levels considered harmful. “The limited
data EPA collected during this study, which do not
point to a concern, represents an important addition
to the information gathered by various government agencies,”
said Peter Grevatt, director of EPA’s Office of Children’s
Health Protection “The study will help set the stage
for a meeting this spring, where EPA will bring together
officials from states and federal agencies to evaluate
the existing body of science on this topic and determine
what additional steps should be taken to ensure the
safety of kids who play on these surfaces,” he added.
As usual, EPA qualified the findings of its study: “Given
the limited nature of the study (limited number of
constituents monitored, sample sites, and samples taken
at each site) and the wide diversity of tire crumb
material, it is not possible, without additional data,
to extend the results beyond the four study sites to
reach more comprehensive conclusions.”
However, the EPA study did confirm, most importantly,
that most of the methods tested were accurate, reproducible
and appropriate for measuring concentrations of tire
crumb constituents and can be used in future studies.
EPA is aware that studies by other agencies were undertaken
or completed while its survey was being conducted.
EPA is planning a 2010 meeting with federal and state
agencies to review all new study data and determine
The next steps will likely involve more government spending
for more studies to arrive at essentially the same
conclusions. Meanwhile, more products made from recycled
tires will keep more old tires out of landfills and
continue to find new and useful applications.