Washington, DC — Federal “safe to play” endorsements for artificial turf are based on flawed and limited science and should be withdrawn, according to legal challenges filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Federal agencies have given blanket safety assurances for parents, athletes and schools despite a growing body of evidence documenting chemical exposure and other risks from synthetic turf.
PEER today issued retraction demands to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Each agency did a very small study on a limited selection of possible exposures which failed to take into account realistic risks for children and athletes. Among flaws cited by PEER are that –
- CPSC only considered possible ingestion of lead found on the field surface, not inhalation or absorption through the skin. EPA looked at the presence of a number of compounds and inhalation potential on a handful of fields but not when there was activity likely to stir up plastic and tire dust particles containing lead and other toxic compounds;
- Both examined newer fields despite the fact that the fields release more lead as they age;
- CPSC examined only lead, on the surface, ignoring a cauldron of other dangerous chemicals in the mass of pulverized tires underlying the plastic “grass” rugs including arsenic, benzene, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, mercury, carbon black and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; and
- The EPA study took air and surface samples from three athletic fields and from one playground. The testing was so limited, an EPA representative said, that the agency was “not in a position to draw any conclusions on a national basis.”
“The latest study shows the chemical exposure intensifies with the level of activity – the harder the play, the greater the danger,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that synthetic turf companies feature the agencies’ endorsements on their web sites and brochures. “It is utterly irresponsible to declare artificial turf ‘OK to install, OK to play on’ in the face of mounting evidence that the opposite is the case.”
In fact, the CPSC review found lead levels in artificial sports fields above its accepted limits for children’s products yet the agencies rebuffed a PEER call to reclassify playgrounds and elementary school fields as children’s products. CPSC ruled that since the same products were also marketed for adult use it would not impose safeguards for children. Significantly, there is no safe level of lead exposure for children.
“Public health has been trampled underfoot to promote artificial turf,” Ruch added, pointing to EPA’s advocacy of shredding used tires as a beneficial form of recycling. “If these agencies are not going to do their jobs, they should stop making matters worse by misrepresenting the dangers to the public.”
The PEER complaints are filed under the Data Quality Act which requires information distributed by federal agencies be complete, objective and reliable. The complaints seek the retraction of a 2008 CPSC and a 2009 EPA study and associated press/web claims of safety. The agencies each have 60 days to respond. An initial refusal may be appealed.
“These complaints will force the agencies to examine the current state of science on artificial turf and decide whether an update is needed,” Ruch concluded.