Shredded tyres in playgrounds could be toxic risk

An American NGO that prides itself on being made up of public sector whistle blowers is claiming that shredded tyres used as surfacing in playgrounds may provide a good route for recycling an awkward material, but could present a hidden health threat.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has published internal documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that show the watchdog does not know the extent to which children may be exposed to the toxic chemicals that are used in the manufacture of tyres.

Every year in the US hundreds of thousands of tyres are recycled into ground rubber which is used to reduce injuries from falls.

But PEER is concerned about the lack of information on the potential toxicity of the material, pointing out that hazardous materials such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury and hydrocarbons are used in the production of the original tyres.

“Kids roll around in this stuff, put it into their mouths and rub it into their skin and hair,” said PEER executive director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that tire crumbs are often painted in bright colors enticing to very young children.

“Despite the growing concerns of its own scientists, EPA has issued no public statement of caution and still promotes tire crumbs in playgrounds.”

He said the EPA has embraced a supposed ‘win-win’ solution for a solid waste problem without considering potential side effects.

He claimed the documents PEER had obtained show:

  • EPA lacks the information to “assess toxicological risks of tyre crumb in situations where children are exposed” but has recommended tyre crumbs for public recreational use since 1991;
  • Agencies are issuing contradictory advice to consumers. In June 2008, for example, the Centers for Disease Control issued an advisory for potential lead exposure from artificial turf, while weeks later, CPSC issued a press release downplaying the lead risk based on very limited testing;
  • EPA plans to conduct its first field monitoring studies but admits that these limited tests will leave many questions unanswered.
  • David Gibbs

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