Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stepped back from prior safety assurances about artificial turf in response to an administrative complaint filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The agency has posted new cautions concerning unexplored chemical exposure to more than 30 compounds found in synthetic shredded tire turf, including arsenic, lead, cobalt, mercury and trichloroethylene.
On March 21st, PEER issued a retraction demand to EPA that a 2009 study and press release expressing a “Low Level of Concern” about synthetic turf was based on flawed and limited science, in violation of federal information quality standards. In an initial response to the PEER complaint dated December 16, 2013, EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Research and Development Lek Kadeli ordered the press release summarizing the study to be prominently stamped with a notice that it was “outdated” with a link to a new posting stressing the need for “future studies” to enable “more comprehensive conclusions.”
“We are gratified that EPA has taken this small and grudging step toward a more responsible position reflecting synthetic turf exposure risks,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting industry claims that approximately 4,500 synthetic turf fields have been installed across the U.S., each sitting atop in-fill consisting of between 20,000 and 40,000 shredded tires. “EPA now admits that it has no idea about the extent of chemical exposure to children and athletes playing on these surfaces.”
The sole study on artificial turf that EPA conducted was back in 2009 when it took air and surface samples from three athletic fields and from one playground. The testing looked only at one chemical on brand new fields without levels of activity typical on a field or playground and ignored the role of heat in chemical release. EPA has refused to retract the study but now states that the study was “very limited” and provides no basis “to extend the results beyond the four study sites…”
The PEER complaint was filed under the Data Quality Act which requires information distributed by federal agencies be complete, objective and reliable. While EPA guidelines suggest the agency should respond to these complaints for correction within 90 days, in this case EPA took nearly nine months. PEER has the option to appeal this decision and seek full retraction of the now discounted study.
Back in 2009, EPA’s own Office of Inspector General took it to task for endorsing reuse of industrial materials such as coal ash and shredded tires without conducting any credible risk assessments of those practices. While EPA promised to address this criticism, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by PEER indicate that no reportable progress has been made.
“By blindly promoting so-called ‘beneficial’ reuse of tire crumbs and other toxic industrial wastes, EPA has shirked its public health duties,” Ruch added. “EPA claims that minimizing chemical exposures to children is one of its top priorities yet through its slow-walking of synthetic turf studies, children on playgrounds and sports fields across the country are left to serve as human guinea pigs.”
Meanwhile in response to another PEER complaint, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has ordered an enforcement review of marketing of artificial turf products for children because the agency has found lead levels in artificial sports fields above statutory limits in children’s products. Significantly, there is no safe lead exposure level for children.