Crumb Rubber in artificial turf and other carcinogens

toxinsThe Yale chemical analysis (see below) found 12 carcinogens in the synthetic turf tested. High temperatures cause crumb rubber infill to outgas at a higher rate.


What is Crumb Rubber?

Artificial turf that uses infill made from recycled tires (“crumb rubber”) contains a cocktail of toxic chemicals, including benzothiazole, carbon black, and heavy metals. As the Mt. Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center has written: “Exposures to chemicals present in crumb rubber at very high levels, typical of animal or occupational studies, are known to cause birth defects, neurologic and developmental deficits, and some can even cause cancer.

Children are particularly vulnerable to toxic threats. Children have increased exposure to toxic chemicals due to the unique way they interact with their environment. Because they are growing and developing, their bodies are also more susceptible than adults to chemical exposures.

Crumb rubber contains benzothiazole, which “exerts acute toxicity and is a respiratory irritant and a dermal sensitizer.” [ii]  Carbon black, which makes up 20-40% of crumb rubber, has been identified as a cancer-causing chemical by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Another concern is allergic reactions to the latex in crumb rubber.[iii]

Unfortunately, children’s exposure to these chemicals while using artificial turf fields has not been adequately studied. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in its most recent evaluation of its study of crumb rubber, determined that it was not possible for the agency to reach “comprehensive conclusions without the consideration of additional data.” The Center for Environmental Health believes that the health of our children is important enough to take action now.

Artificial turf also poses health hazards in addition to the problems caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. Fields containing crumb rubber often reach unsafe temperatures—one study at Brigham Young University recorded that their field reached a surface temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit on a 98 degree day.[iv] In addition, “turf burns” (abrasions) are more frequent and severe on artificial turf than grass.[v]

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery bases its tire management strategy upon supporting the production and use of recycled tire products while “providing a strong and fair regulatory framework to protect public health and safety and the environment.”[vi] While we agree with and support this mission, the use of recycled tires in children’s playgrounds and playing fields runs contrary to this goal.

The Center for Environmental Health recommends that schools, when feasible, replace crumb rubber infill with infill made from natural materials. Our recommendation is similar to those in New York City, which currently uses alternatives to crumb rubber infill in its new turf installations, and the Los Angeles Unified School District, which removed crumb rubber from play areas for young children.

We asked staff at the Piedmont Unified School District to comment on the district’s artificial turf installation at Havens Elementary School using a natural infill material, Infill Pro GEO, made by Geoturf. Staff reported that “it has been a very low maintenance product” and they “can’t say enough about how well the field drains.” Staff also noted that, “unlike crumb rubber, we have had no parent complaints about infill that hitchhikes home.”

If the resources to replace infill are not available, there are a number of ways to reduce exposures. Turf fields should not be used on extremely hot days and students should be monitored for heat-induced illness and abrasions. All crumb rubber pellets should be removed from students’ clothing, bodies, and equipment after playing. Students should always wash their hands thoroughly after exposure to the crumb rubber and never lie down or eat on the field.

Please join us in minimizing the exposure to toxic chemicals to give students the best possible learning environment.


There has been concern about the safety of artificial turf for years. In 1978, experts found exposing mice to Chrysene led to a huge increase in tumours in the animals. A 1993 study into Benzo (E) Pyrene said the substance promotes tumours forming on skin.

In 2014, NBC looked into the potential link between the rubber crumbs used in artificial turf and female soccer players getting cancer.  The broadcast focused on Amy Griffin, associate head coach for the University of Washington’s women’s soccer team. Griffin, in her words, has discovered “a stream of kids” that have played on artificial turf and soon gotten cancer. Griffin has compiled a list of 38 American soccer players–34 of them goalies–who have been diagnosed with cancer. At least a dozen played in Washington, but the geographic spread is nationwide. Blood cancers like lymphoma and leukemia dominate the list.

In response to a NBC News investigation, the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the EPA Administrator looking for more information about the safety of crumb rubber fields. Congress gave the EPA a November 6, 2015 deadline, which the EPA failed to meet.

Finally in February three U.S. government agencies will team up to study whether artificial turf fields and playgrounds that use bits of recycled tires are exposing children to dangerous chemicals. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Friday they will study the issue, CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye said in a statement.

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