U.S. Product Safety Commission Stumbles on Artificial Turf
CPSC Slow-Walks Its Review of Tire Crumb Playgrounds as Children’s Products
Washington, DC — Amid growing calls to shield young children from toxic chemicals in playing surfaces made with shredded tires, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has sat on its own enforcement review of the product for more than a year, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At issue is why the CPSC has not held synthetic playground turf to the same safety standard it applies to other playground equipment, such as swings and slides.
Spurred by outrage over importation of toxic Chinese-made toys, in 2008 Congress mandated safeguards for children’s products by imposing a lead content limit of 100 parts per million and third-party testing to ensure compliance. Playgrounds made with shredded tires, however, generally exceed this lead limit. In fact, the only test the CPSC ever conducted found nearly half of the fields sampled contained lead in amounts more than three times this legal limit. Other studies have found even higher levels of lead, a substance for which medical authorities agree there is no “safe” level for childhood exposure.
In 2012, the Commission declined to classify crumb rubber playgrounds and elementary school sports fields as a children’s product in response to a PEER request saying that it needed evidence of promotion and marketing directed at children. In 2013, PEER submitted evidence of companies like TotTurf and KidWise Outdoor Products marketing products under names such as PlaySafer and Play Tuff Tiles using sales slogans declaring “softer on little knees” and “keep kids safe.”
In response to this submission, on September 27, 2013 the CPSC informed PEER that it had tasked its Office of Compliance and Field Operations with a “review and determination of whether any enforcement action is appropriate.” A year later PEER inquired and ultimately submitted a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act to find out the outcome of this review. The Commission declined to reply and today PEER filed a lawsuit in federal district court to compel the answer. PEER is also seeking to reveal the extent of industry lobbying of Commission officials to keep the product on the market.
“With their hands, eyes, hair and even mouths, children are in more intimate contact with the turf than they are with anything else on the playground,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that a children’s product is defined as “a consumer product designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger.” “Protecting children at play should be a priority not a grudging afterthought for the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”
Beyond lead, shredded tires contain a host of other constituents such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury and a number of dangerous hydrocarbons, with potential toxicity to children. These exposure risks are largely unstudied and poorly understood. Nonetheless, there are an estimated 5,000 synthetic turf fields in the U.S. and many more playgrounds using shredded tires, with more being installed each month.
“We understand that reusing old tires reduces solid waste headaches,” added Ruch. “But we do not understand the wisdom of placing our youngest children to play atop a pile of what is essentially hazardous waste.”