Artificial turf called into question

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A California state senator is pushing to ban artificial turf fields that use rubber from used tires amid concerns that the fields could be linked to cancer and other illnesses.

State Sen. Jerry Hill proposed a bill last month that would prevent cities and school districts from installing artificial turf fields that use granulated chunks of used tires, known as crumb rubber or styrene-butadiene (SBR) rubber, for the next three years. The bill also proposes that the state conduct a comprehensive study on the health effects of crumb rubber on the people who use the fields.

Hill introduced the bill after growing concerns from the public that the rubber surfaces on turf fields could be increasing the number of cases of leukemia and lymphoma among young athletes, as well as prostate, testicular and other cancers.

"We have a responsibility to ensure that our children aren't being harmed by materials used to make their fields and playgrounds," Hill said in a statement.

Mountain View has a number of fields that use crumb rubber from used tires, with more on the way.

The Mountain View-Los Altos school district installed new artificial turf fields at both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools over the summer, both of which include a layer of crumb rubber. The turf manufacturer, Field Turf, maintains that there are no associated health effects to using the rubber, according to Mike Mathiesen, associate superintendent of business services for the district.

Shelley Smith, athletic director for the district, said the new field replaced the old artificial turf that used to heat up to 110 to 125 degrees and had a harder surface, making it less comfortable to play on. He said so far the feedback on the new field has been positive, and he hasn't heard of any complaints about the health effects.

The Mountain View Whisman School District, similarly, has artificial turf at Graham Middle School, and has a proposed artificial turf field slated for Crittenden Middle School.

The city of Mountain View has a crumb rubber field at Graham School Park, and plans to install acres of artificial turf for the new Shoreline Athletic Fields project, set to be complete by this summer. The project will include a softball field, a baseball field and two soccer fields all using crumb rubber turf, according to Ray Rodriguez of the city of Mountain View.

Studies on the health effects of the crumb rubber fields, so far, have been anything but conclusive. The Environmental Protection Agency conducted a study in 2009 and found that the concentration of dangerous compounds were below the "level of concern," according to the EPA website. But by the EPA's own admission, the study was very limited -- it only looked at four sites -- and should not be used to "reach any comprehensive conclusion."

The 30 chemicals that can be found in the crumb rubber include benzothiazole and trichloroethylene (TCE), compounds known to cause adverse health effects, as well as mercury, arsenic and lead, according to the EPA.

Hill's bill would seek to fill the holes left by the EPA study. Instead of four fields, the study would examine at least 20, and would look specifically at whether the low level concentrations of toxic compounds and materials can cause leukemia, cancer and other illnesses. It would also examine alternative turf materials, like used shoes, cork, and rice husks.

Read the full article from the Mountain View Voice here.