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Reston Family Speaks Out About Artificial Turf Dangers

by Karen Goff October 2, 2015 at 9:00 am 11 Comments

South Lakes HS field/Credit: NBC News

A Reston family that is greatly concerned about the use of crumb rubber in artificial turf fields and the effects on children’s health was featured on NBC Nightly News on Thursday.

Reston’s Jon and Laura Damm, both environmental lawyers, have been lobbying Fairfax County officials for more than a year to take a second look at the use of crumb rubber, which is essentially ground-up tires, in the use of artificial turf fields.

See the NBC Nightly News story.

South Lakes and Herndon High Schools, as well as most FCPS high schools, have artificial turf fields.

Anecdotal evidence collected by University of Washington Soccer Coach Amy Griffin shows more than 60 young players, most of them goalies, have gotten cancer in the last few years.

However, the U.S. Environmental Agency has not taken a stand on the issue, and no major study has linked crumb rubber to cancer.

The Damms are not taking any chances, however. They started a local petition last year urging Fairfax officials to replace fields.

“Right now, what we are seeing is our kids are the guinea pigs, said Jon Damm. “We are not willing to let our kids be the guinea pigs.”

Fairfax County, which has more than 80 turf fields with crumb rubber infill, most of which have been installed in the last few years, say they have  contacted officials in the Seattle area, where the NBC investigation started more than a year ago.

But there is not yet official data, so Fairfax County has no plans to replace fields, county spokesman Tony Castrilli told The Washington Post. However, the county says it will continue to review local cancer rates and other studies.

Meanwhile, Montgomery County, Md., has recently begun using more natural products in its fields. That decision was spurred by parental feedback, a county spokesman told NBC.

In the District, an Artificial Turf Task Force is also examining the issue. The D.C. Government says no crumb rubber will likely be used in future projects.

The Safe Fields Alliance, which represents turf manufacturers, said the BCA report was “misleading and without context.”

“The NBC report cited several chemicals found in crumb rubber as points of concern,” the group said in a statement. “However, this information is misleading without context and without baselines, especially given that we all eat, drink, and breathe trace levels of chemicals in our daily lives. [The] Industry voluntarily ensures the levels of any chemicals in synthetic turf fields are lower than the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s lead and chemical standards for children’s toys and the Environmental Protection Agency’s safe standards for urban and rural soils.”

  • meh

    Do a study on cancer rates on people who change tires for a living, or study dogs that chew on kong rubber balls all day. Come to bat with some real science otherwise you come off as a sue happy lawyer looking to make a quick buck.

    • Patricia Taylor

      From the CDC – “Excess deaths from bladder, stomach, lung, hematopoietic, and other cancers have occurred among workers involved in the manufacture of rubber products. These workers may also risk adverse respiratory effects, dermatologic effects, reproductive effects, injuries, and repetitive trauma disorders. The adverse health effects cannot be attributed to a single chemical or group of chemicals because workplace exposures vary greatly and chemical formulations change frequently.”

      • LiliKang

        Although that is a horrible side effect of the industry that deserves action, I don’t know that it is an equal comparison of the FCPS situation. A factory worker is breathing and touching multiple chemicals in an enclosed factory on a daily basis for 2-3 decades in some cases.

        An outdoor turf field isn’t going to have gaseous build-up. The physical contact aspect is there but the specific sport will determine how much skin exposure will occur. I actually think for once FCPS taking a logical approach. I’m hoping they studied the MSDS Data on the stuff before installing it all over. If not, then I’d be pretty ticked off.

        • Patricia Taylor

          Children are playing on rubber mulch and fields filled with up to 40,000 shredded rubber tires at school and for sports practices on a daily basis, over years, when their brains and bodies are developing.

          The fields and playgrounds undergo environmental stresses (heat, cold, rain, snow, play) that degrade their surfaces and fill. That’s why they need replacement These stresses cause out-gassing, dust, run-off and for the mulch and infill to be eaten, rubbed into wounds, and carried home in cars to beds, floors, and washers and dryers.

          These exposures have not been studied adequately, given the chemicals we know are in the rubber infill and mulch – 96 of them according to preliminary findings at Yale this summer in a study underwritten by EHHI, a non-profit that takes no industry money. Many of these chemicals are carcinogens or irritants.

          Should kids be guinea pigs? What’s the proof that will satisfy government and industry – a list of the sick and deceased? Well, the only person keeping that list at the present time is Amy Griffin. Why isn’t the federal government protecting us?

          • Mike M

            My study indicates that breathing air, any air, eventually leads to death 100% of the time. Further inquiry revealed that having an OCD mom, or an “environmental attorney” dad in no way mitigates on the certainty of death. I hypothesize that eating Cheetos and traveling by automobile poses a greater risk to the health of children. In a sense we are all “guinea pigs” every time we get out of bed in the morning. My conclusion? We might just have to lighten up, Franceses.

      • meh

        That CDC study is about making rubber not the end product….from your same source.

        “Rubber products such as automobile tires, automotive and appliance moldings, rubber bands, rubber gloves, and prophylactics are an important part of modern life. However, production of these items involves subjecting heterogeneous mixtures of hundreds of chemicals to heat, pressure, and catalytic action during a variety of manufacturing processes. As a result, the work environment may be contaminated with dusts, gases, vapors, fumes, and chemical byproducts.”

    • Jonathan Damm

      My wife and I are both trained as environmental lawyers. But we are not in private practice. We are not suing anyone over this issue and therefore, certainly not trying to make a buck.

      Due to our background, we are fortunate to have a deep understanding and appreciation of the dangers associated with chemical and toxic exposures.

      As an athlete and coach who spent much time on the fields, I understand how the particulate from the ground up tires interacts with children who use the fields. They ingest, inhale and absorb the tire dust and vapors routinely.

      So we are simply making what we feel is a prudent decision to protect our kids. That is all. If our decision increase debate, that is wonderful.

      You make an excellent point though. We indeed need animal studies much like they did for the contaminated soil at Love Canal. That is the only way to know anything for sure. Right now, they have only studied a limited number of the chemicals and carcinogens typically found in tire rubber for use on turf fields.

      But really, it is beyond our human ability to do compound based risk analysis on 1/2 the chemicals in tire rubber because we do not have toxicological assessments for 1/2 the chemicals. So that is a tremendous gap or limitation.

      Those limitations were enough for the entire country of Sweden to ban tire rubber on fields. And so did New York City Parks and Schools, the LA Unified School District, Montgomery County, the list goes on and on.

      Those entities are honoring the precautionary principal, which dictates the most prudent or cautious approach when there is a lack of consensus regarding toxic material. Here, the most prudent measure would be to use the alternative infill material on the fields, which are made from plant-derived material.

      Folks take reasonable steps everyday to protect their family from toxic hazards – they wash fruit or buy organic, they avoid plastics with BPA, phthalates and PAHs, they off-gas and ventilate when appropriate.

      Tires have chemicals that are undisputed and known carcinogens, reprotoxins and mutagens. We think it is unwise to take all the prudent steps we take to limit chemical exposure and bioaccumulation, and to then take a big step back by letting our kids grow up atop a literal witch’s brew of all those toxins we normally try to avoid. That doesn’t make sense to us at all.

      If others feel comfortable with the risk, that is up to them. But what I suspect we will ultimately find, is that more people than not will feel the risk is unacceptable – as they did in Montgomery County (by unanimous vote of the Council.) Tire rubber on synthetic fields will be remembered for what it is, recycling gone horribly wrong.

      Until then, our kids will play basketball, run, swim, play tennis, hike, ski, and play soccer and lacrosse on grass fields.

  • Sally Forth

    “Safe Fields Alliance” You’ve gotta love it. A crumb rubber industry group masquerading as an org that has our kids’ best interests at heart. Pardon my skepticism. Alert to FFX Co. taxpayers: Our BOS JUST voted to spend ANOTHER $1.5 Million on these expensive to build/astronomically expensive to maintain crumb rubber fields with some of the left-over $ from savings this year when we have other drastic problems in our community like over-crowded schools. I kid you not. Our BOS and FCPA are playing Russian roulette with our most precious resource when there is an alternative safe filler. Thanks to all who are shining light on this potentially deadly totally available issue.

  • populer208

    What about the fact that no one likes turf feilds? I doubt recycled tires cause cancer, but turf fields hurt a lot to slide on and are never as good as grass and dirt.

  • John Q Public

    No surprise here…whatever serves the county’s bottom line. GOV could care less if the services they provide spike a rise in cancer. Our government is actually trying to get you sick, cancer is the countries biggest business….Wake up folks…..

  • Constance (Connie) Hartke

    An update: the Consumer Product Safety Commission may be able to broaden their investigation thanks to 2 U.S. Senators: http://m.wftv.com/news/news/local/watchdog-group-calls-federal-investigation-crumb-r/nqCwH/

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