Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr. said Tuesday that he has read enough research about possible dangers associated with “crumb rubber” to warrant an end to the use of the material in playgrounds. At least for now.
“Crumb rubber” is the term being used to describe shredded or ground rubber recycled from motor vehicle tires, and in recent years has been used in a variety of surface applications in playgrounds.
“It’s time to take a breather,” the Democratic Senator from Branford told the Children’s Committee Tuesday.
The committee was hearing testimony on several bills Tuesday, including legislation that would prohibit the installation of ground cover that contains crumb rubber in municipal and public school playgrounds on or after October 1.
Kennedy told the committee: “I am very well aware that experts disagree and there is conflicting scientific evidence” on whether synthetic turf fields and playgrounds pose a safety danger.
However, Kennedy said he would rather “err on the side of caution until more is known.”
But not everyone, including the Connecticut Department of Public Health, agrees.
The Department of Public Health acknowledged the concern about the crumb rubber used in making these artificial fields and playgrounds, but feels the concern has largely been put to rest with studies by the state of California and Rutgers University.
“DPH recognizes that these studies have limitations and will continue to monitor the literature as new studies are reported,” Acting Commissioner Raul Pino said in his written testimony.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the University of Connecticut Health Center did its own study of five artificial fields in Connecticut in 2010-11 and “did not find a large amount of vapor or particle release from the fields.” The risk assessment also did not find an elevated risk of cancer.
Fred Balsamo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors, said he opposes the legislation because “it is a reaction to much propaganda and hype rather than fact.” He said there is “no factual proof that using crumb rubber has or does cause cancer.”
In his written testimony, Balsamo attached a 2015 Department of Public Health memo to local health departments that states that it’s the department’s position “that outdoor artificial turf fields do not represent an elevated health risk.”
Committee members noted that the issue has become a “front burner” one, in part because President Barack Obama is seeking $1 million for a federal investigation into the safety of artificial turf fields and playgrounds.
The request, included in the president’s broader budget proposal to Congress, comes after U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called on the White House to initiate a comprehensive study into the potential health risks posed by the fields.
Several Connecticut communities in recent weeks, including Hamden and Guilford, have had meetings where there have been lengthy debates between those who say the fields are dangerous and those who say studies have shown that the fields are perfectly safe.
Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, a Republican who represents the town of Madison where the town has built synthetic fields, said one of her frustrations is that the “expert opinion” on what playing surfaces are considered safe “seem to constantly be changing.”
“If we’re going to tell towns what type of fields they shouldn’t use, then we need to be able to advise them on what type of fields they can use,” Kokoruda said.
Nancy Alderman, president of North Haven-based Environment and Human Health Inc., told the committee that it was the right thing to do “to ban crumb rubber from our smallest children’s’ playgrounds.”
“Whatever you attempt to do you will get enormous push back from the industries that benefit from crumb rubber field installation in our state,” Alderman said. “But move forward with this — for our children’s’ sake.’‘
Alderman and others said putting a moratorium on new crumb rubber playgrounds — and fields — will allow more time for study.
Blumenthal said last week that if the federal study Obama asked for is approved, it should be completed by the end of 2016.
At the moment, the language in H.B. 5139 doesn’t suggest a temporary moratorium, but rather a prohibition in the use of the material starting Oct. 1.