Two Prince William County high schools are scheduled to receive new turf fields by next fall, but before the school division seeks bids on the projects, one school board member is hoping for an alternative to crumb rubber turf.
The concern about crumb rubber turf — made from recycled tires — has been part of a national conversation for several years. Federal agencies have withdrawn their prior safety assurances amid pressure to study the long-term effects of turf, including whether the chemicals within it can cause cancer.
After parents at Woodbridge High School pushed for a turf field, with the support of school board member Lillie Jessie, the school division approved the installation by next fall. Stonewall Jackson High in Manassas was already scheduled to receive a turf field by next fall.
Before the school division requests bids for Woodbridge High’s turf field, Jessie wants the school board to consider adding language to the request to include offers for alternative material to crumb rubber turf fields.
“I would like for us to begin to look at safer surfaces,” Jessie said.
Jessie is concerned the crumb rubber material could expose students to toxins such as lead.
“For me, I’d rather be safe than sorry,” she said. “There are toxins in those granules, and I just think it’s not a healthy situation for our children. I don’t want, 10 years from now, to find out that someone was affected.”
Four county high schools currently have turf fields made of crumb rubber: Patriot, Potomac, Colgan and Freedom.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently is leading a study of the concerns about health issues; the latest report is being peer reviewed. The agency currently states that limited studies have not shown an elevated health risk from playing on tire crumb fields, but the studies have not comprehensively evaluated the concerns about exposure to tire crumb.
The agency launched an action plan to study the issue in February 2016 after Julie Foudy, retired member of the U.S. women’s soccer team, raised concerns in an article on ESPN.
Foudy wrote in the ESPN article that she had begun collecting names of soccer players who were diagnosed with cancer and had played on rubber crumb turf fields, The list had reached 38 players in 2014, including many goalkeepers.
Crumb rubber contains lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercy and other dangerous hydrocarbons, “with potential toxicity to children,” according to the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER.
In 2013, the EPA retracted its prior safety assurances about of rubber tire turf fields, according to PEER. PEER became involved in the issue after an EPA toxicologist enlisted the nonprofit’s help in urging the agency to perform a risk assessment, Jeff Ruch, executive director for PEER, said in an interview with InsideNoVa.
Ruch said the EPA studies — even the one currently being peer reviewed — are not enough because they are not studying the long-term effects of being exposed to the crumb rubber turf.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website currently states that although “no specific chemical hazards from recycled tires in playground surfacing are known” by the commission, it does recommend precautions to limit exposure, such as avoiding mouth contact with material, avoiding eating or drinking while on a playground with crumb rubber, limiting time on hot days, cleaning hands and other exposed areas after use and cleaning toys that were used on the playground.
PEER has asked the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban the products in spaces designed for children under 12.
“The commission has a statutory responsibility to ensure the things used by children are safe and lead-free,” Ruch said. “These things are not lead-free and we also argue that they are not safe.”