Earlier this week, NBC News reported on the possible dangers of ground-up rubber tires, used in playgrounds and on artificial turf fields.
Parents are becoming increasingly concerned about their kids' exposure to the rubber, and the materials they’re made of. While there’s not a major health threat right now, experts across the country are asking more questions, even here in Utah.
If your children play football or soccer on an artificial surface, they’ve come in contact with those tiny BB-sized pieces of rubber, used for padding. They’ve probably even swallowed a piece or two during a tackle.
In some parts of the country, larger pieces of rubber are used in playgrounds, where small children play in it and roll in it.
“All 50 states have expressed some concern or hope to have better understanding of what the issues are,” says Sam LeFevre, environmental epidemiology program manager at the Utah Health Department.
In the NBC report, a playground in Bandon, Oregon, which uses a rubber mulch, was closed due to the concerns of several parents.
One of the mom’s, Shayla Deberry-Osborne, told NBC correspondent Stephanie Gosk about how her child plays in the mulch. “They were sitting in the mulch, they were playing in it they were putting it in their mouths and around their faces.”
At issue are all the materials that are in the rubber. “The negative effects are as the rubber deteriorates it could release particles, gases and possibly heavy metals,” LeFevre says. “It'll fall apart and become little particles. The glues and adhesives that hold it together start to degrade and becomes a powder that people can breathe in.” And some of those compounds could be toxic, LeFevre adds.
Even the artificial blades of grass in the turf contain metals that can break down over time.
LeFevre says for years, there’s wasn’t much evidence of long-term health issues relating to fake turf and its ingredients. “When it first came out, it was all brand new and we didn't see any issues. But now that it's starting to age, we're starting to see these types of issues.”
LeFevre says one way to possibly avoid any health issues is to replace the turf before it starts breaking down.
Rubber manufacturers maintain that studies have shown no adverse health effects from exposure to their products. However, some health professionals say children age 10 and under should not be exposed to it. But, to be clear, in terms of a major health warning, LeFevre says there is none, for now.
“Our advice would be for parents to realize that the exposures are short term, just the time that the children are on the field, so it's not a chronic environmental effect.
But with dozens of high school and college football and soccer fields in Utah, and thousands of young people playing on them, it is something to pay attention to.
Keith McCord is a reporter and also anchors the weekend newscasts on KSL-TV (NBC) in Salt Lake City.