EPA Fumbles Artificial Turf Science

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For Immediate Release: Aug 06, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Agency Had No Scientific Basis for Downplaying Toxic Exposure Risks

Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s first attempt to characterize the toxic elements in artificial turf made from shredded tires should be recalled, according to a legal complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Ecology Center (Michigan). The group charges that EPA’s report contains inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable information and must be retracted, so that the work can be done correctly.

In July, EPA issued the first part of a “Synthetic Turf Tire Crumb Rubber Research Report: a characterization of only some constituents of waste tire rubber crumb used in artificial turf. Although this report was not a risk assessment, EPA offered a conclusion that exposure risks from toxic chemicals, such as lead, within the turf were low. The PEER and Ecology Center complaint points out that not only was there was no support for this opinion, but the report had glaring errors and omissions, including, among other flaws:

  • Failing to examine more than half the chemicals associated with recycled tire crumb, and failing to assess cumulative exposures for synthetic turf field users that can occur through different exposure pathways for individual toxic substances and mixtures of toxic substances;
  • Using a flawed methodology for measuring lead levels that relied on composite sampling that mask lead hot spots, such as those found on recycled rubber playgrounds in Washington DC where testing showed lead levels of nearly 4,000 parts-per-million and more in some samples;
  • Excluding artificial grass blades and other components from analysis, testing fields at low temperatures, and ignoring particulates and other toxic contributors; and,
  • Failing to consider that children may be uniquely vulnerable to and affected by even low levels of toxic substances.

“This report does not meet EPA’s own standards for scientific quality and should be withdrawn,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, noting that there are already more than 12,000 artificial turf fields in the U.S. “It is highly misleading for EPA to suggest that it has a valid reason to assert that tire crumb turf is safe.”

The PEER complaint is filed under the Information Quality Act that requires federal agencies to rely upon or distribute data that is objective, complete, and accurate. A previous such PEER complaint caused EPA to rescind its official safety endorsement for tire crumb turf in late 2013.

In fact, EPA is largely responsible for shredded tires being marketed for play surfaces, promoting it as a beneficial form of recycling. Despite protests from its own scientists, EPA never conducted a risk assessment for intimate exposure of children and young athletes to tire particles containing an array of toxic chemicals, including several known carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors.

“Given its prior role, EPA has a particular duty to adequately assess dangers to those, especially young children, rolling around on these surfaces,” added Bennett. “Unfortunately, this report is just the latest example of EPA abdicating its public health responsibilities.”


Read the PEER complaint

View the EPA turf report

See EPA retraction of its safety endorsement for shredded tire turf

Look at limited scope of current federal turf research

Examine EPA’s decade-long refusal to conduct a proper risk assessment

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