Recently, heightened attention has been given to the safety of ground rubber – also called “tire crumb” or “crumb rubber” – that is commonly used on synthetic turf athletic fields as “infill.” Ground rubber is made by reducing rubber from used tires to a smaller size.
States and local governments – the primary agencies that regulate the management of used tires, including options for recycling, reuse and disposal – have historically viewed tire crumbs as a useful product in many applications, including playing fields. However, the use of tire crumbs on synthetic turf fields has changed over the past decade, leading to new questions about their safety.
According to a recent statement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, current information from a number of tire crumb studies does not show an elevated health risk from playing on fields with synthetic turf or tire crumbs. However, these studies do not comprehensively address new questions and concerns about children’s health risks from exposure to crumb rubber. The primary concern is that players on the artificial turf fields may be exposed to carcinogens in the tire crumb.
There does not appear to be an immediate reason for alarm. Hopefully, planned studies should identify any risk that may be posed by the use of tire crumbs. School districts that use tire crumbs can minimize their risks, however, by discussing with their suppliers the origin of the tire crumbs they purchase. This is true when a school district is either installing a new artificial turf field or when it is replacing tire crumbs on an existing field. Tire crumbs originating in the United States are more likely to be subject to stricter regulatory requirements than those originating in other countries with looser regulatory controls. Therefore, tire crumbs processed in the United States are less likely to be contaminated with substances of potential concern.