Washington, DC — The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) should prevent children from being exposed to lead and other harmful heavy metals in playgrounds and school sports fields made from shredded tires, according to a formal request for an advisory opinion filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Strict lead limits would follow automatically from CPSC classifying tire crumb playgrounds, play mats and plastic turf school sports fields as children’s products.
In 2008, Congress passed a law tightening safeguards for children’s products by imposing a lead content limit and third-party testing to ensure compliance. That same year, lobbyists for the synthetic turf industry met with CPSC representatives and came away with an ambiguous outcome which the industry touted as a recommendation not to classify their products as children’s products. PEER is formally asking the Commission to issue an opinion affirmatively classifying school sports fields and playgrounds as children’s products, as CPSC already so classifies playground equipment such as swings and slides.
“The Consumer Product Safety Commission needs to clear up the confusion its actions have caused and its continued inaction has perpetuated,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that a CPSC advisory opinion would settle the issue without need for extensive rule-making. “If a slide is a children’s product so is the synthetic material the child lands in at the bottom of the slide.”
The concerns about lead exposure have taken on a new urgency following the release in June of 2012 of a study done for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection which found artificial fields made of tire crumb can contain highly elevated levels of lead much greater than the allowed levels for children:
- It reports “concerns with regard to potential hazards that may exist for individuals and in particular children who engage in sports activities on artificial fields”; and
- Inhalable lead “present in artificial turf fields can be resuspended by even minimal activity on the playing surface.”
The study was hampered by the unwillingness of schools with artificial turf field to have them tested. A total of 50 schools were approached by researchers and ultimately only 5 schools consented to testing their fields. The study concludes with this observation:
“For the present time, how widespread the presence of these high lead level fields is, is an unknown. At present the economic disincentive for schools or communities to measure the presence or absence of lead contamination appears to exceed any public concern for children’s safety.”
“This study shows that children running, jumping and playing as expected actually increases the risks of lead contamination,” Ruch added, pointing out that inhalation, ingestion and dermal absorption are all pathways for lead exposure from tire crumb. “For the sake of children’s health and safety, the Consumer Product Safety Commission should revisit this question as soon as possible. These products should not be able to evade lead standards and testing simply because the Commission has not taken the time to classify them.”
Read the PEER call for a CPSC advisory opinion
See minutes and correspondence from the 2008 CPSC-industry meeting
Look at the New Jersey study
Examine synthesis of lead-synthetic field research