The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently issued a document detailing a limited-scope study into the use of recycled tires as the material for crumb rubber infill in artificial turf grass. As many may be aware there was grave concern over the health risks attributed to the use of crumb rubber infill and the claim that children were coming in contact with dangerous chemicals.

Data was collected from a number of different sites in North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio and Maryland. The full study sites sampled were two synthetic turf fields and a playground while additional samples were taken from four other synthetic turf fields and a second playground.

According to the EPA the results of the study found that the levels of the components that were contained within the samples were consistently below the levels of concern. The report goes on to warn, though, that the study was of a very limited nature. It further states that the characteristics and performance of the grass blades should also be considered separately to that of the rubber infill.

Some of the findings that were itemized in the official press release that came out on December 10, 2009 included:

  • Particulate matter, metals and volatile organic compound concentrations were measured in the air samples and compared with areas away from the turf fields (background levels). The levels found in air samples from the artificial turf were similar to background levels.
  • No tire-related fibers were observed in the air samples.
  • All air concentrations of particulate matter and lead were well below levels of concern.
  • More than 90 percent of the lead in the tire crumb material was tightly bound and unavailable for absorption by users of the turf fields.
  • Zinc, which is a known additive in tires, was found in tire crumb samples. However, air and surface wipe monitoring levels of zinc were found to be below levels of concern.

Now the question that should be asked when reading about this particular study is does this clear crumb rubber infill as a safe product to use. Unfortunately the answer is still a resounding no. There are many cautions and caveats surrounding the way in which the testing was carried out and the type of samples that were taken, both air-borne and physical specimens.

What the study does is provides a framework around which future studies can be based and can be used in determining what form future studies are going to take. It's still an issue that requires more information to be independently gathered because according to the Synthetic Turf Council there are more than 4,500 fields, tracks and playgrounds in the US that are covered by one form of synthetic turf or another.