Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is having second thoughts about the safety of shredded tires as fill in playgrounds, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). EPA admits that it does not know the extent of childhood exposure from ingestion or inhalation of an array of toxic chemicals found within tires.
Every year millions of pounds of tires are recycled into ground rubber, (called “tire crumb”) and placed on playgrounds to reduce injuries from falls. Both EPA and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have endorsed the use of tire crumb for years but neither agency ever investigated the potential toxicity to children from direct contact with tire ingredients, such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury and a number of dangerous hydrocarbons. Despite these huge knowledge gaps, both agencies still endorse use of tire crumb, which is increasingly being marketed for backyard use.
Documents obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that –
- EPA lacks the information to “assess toxicological risks of tire crumb in situations where children are exposed” but has recommended tire crumbs for public recreational use since 1991;
- Agencies are issuing contradictory advice to consumers. In June 2008, for example, the Centers for Disease Control issued an advisory for potential lead exposure from artificial turf, while weeks later, CPSC issued a press release downplaying the lead risk based on very limited testing; and
- EPA plans to conduct its first field monitoring studies but admits that these limited tests will leave many questions unanswered.
“Kids roll around in this stuff, put it into their mouths and rub it into their skin and hair,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that tire crumbs are often painted in bright colors enticing to very young children. “Despite the growing concerns of its own scientists, EPA has issued no public statement of caution and still promotes tire crumbs in playgrounds.”
Significantly, EPA has refused to release documents to PEER describing the status of the agency’s proposed field studies, which the agency had described as very limited and not representative of “tire crumb sources [or] turf field types”. Nor has EPA scheduled a proposed workshop with states and other relevant federal agencies to coordinate research and health monitoring.
“In essence, EPA is burying its head in the tire crumbs,” Ruch added, noting that states have fruitlessly asked EPA for guidance. “This is yet another instance where EPA has mindlessly embraced a supposed ‘win-win’ solution for a solid waste problem without considering potential side effects.”
PEER is asking EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to 1) revoke her agency’s endorsement of tire crumb until the research has concluded that it is safe for children; 2) issue an interim public health advisory; and 3) outline a coordinated approach, working with other agencies, for assessing risk. If Ms. Jackson does not respond, PEER will ask the appropriations panels handling the EPA budget to mandate these actions.