The Perils of Crumb Rubber

By: Chris Morse and RJ Simmons

It is widely known that exposure to certain products can cause severe health issues. History has shown that sometimes it takes decades to recognize that those materials are a health hazard.

For example, Asbestos, a strong, heat-resistant mineral fiber, is used in a variety of products from building material to auto parts and has been on the market since the mid-1800s. As early as 1918, reports showing an abnormally high risk of death amongst asbestos workers surfaced, yet it wasn’t until 1967 that a personal injury claim was upheld in a court of law in the UK, and 1971 in the US. Today, use of asbestos is still prevalent but OSHA requires businesses to adhere to strict regulations for safety and standards.

Similarly, lead-based paint was in wide use dating back to Colonial times. The lead component made the paint durable and washable and was used on both interior and exterior architecture. In the early 1950s, interior lead paint began to see bans, but it wasn’t until twenty years later, in 1971, that the Federal Lead Poisoning Presentation Act was passed and it took another seven years for the federal government to ban consumer use of lead paint.

The latest questions center on crumb rubber. Crumb rubber, made from recycled tires in a process where the steel and tire cord is removed, giving the rubber a granular consistency, is often used in the rubberized asphalt in playgrounds and turf fields. Like asbestos and lead paint, crumb rubber has its uses. It’s been an effective way to not only conserve water but the recycling aspect keeps landfills from being overrun with scrap tires. Generally, upwards of 40,000 scrap tires are used to produce enough filling to cover an average football field.

Following in the footsteps of asbestos and lead, the question of whether or not there is a link between crumb rubber and cancer has been posed. Some researchers believe using recycled tires on turf fields could be linked to the possibility of athletes developing cancer, as the chemicals in the crumb rubber are slowly released over time, possibly infecting not only athletes but also spectators.

The Journal of Environmental & Analytical Toxicology in Italy found, “the release of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons” (also known as PAHs) evaporates into the air and can affect people playing on the field.”

Can the types of chemicals used in crumb rubber have serious health effects, particularly for those with prolonged exposure to the field? An article in the Oxford University Press citing the women’s soccer coach at the University of Washington states she “observed an increase in players developing cancer since the installation of an artificial turf field. The belief is the possibility of inhaling and even ingesting the small black particles of crumb rubber may lead to developing lymphoma disease.” However, other studies have been conducted that find the crumb rubber emissions in sports fields to be low and acceptable.

While it is too early to determine if there are long-term negative health effects of crumb rubber exposure, it’s worthy to note that in February, 2016, three government agencies, “the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched a multi-agency Federal Research Action Plan on Recycled Tire Crumb Used on Playing Fields and Playgrounds to study key environmental and human health questions”.

History may repeat itself and a ban on crumb rubber may yet evolve, but until a final conclusion is determined, it is important for Tire Recyclers to protect themselves against possible claims that may be linked to crumb rubber usage. Preemptive coverage to protect a recycler from crippling lawsuits that may result in hefty payouts and litigation fees is available.

Our Recycling Program Advisors are available to discuss various policies to protect your business in the event of a claim.