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Tire Crumbs on our Playgrounds

2010 March 2

When I was younger I lived only a few blocks away from a large playground. I used to go there with my family and friends to do the ‘usual’ playground activities: run, swing, race the boys on the monkey bars, and ride down the slides into sand, grass, or my personal favorite, concrete. I was, and still am, a very active person and because of this a have acquired my fair share of bumps, bruises, and scars from my exciting playground sessions. Perhaps this is why we are beginning to see a shift in the way in which playgrounds are being constructed.

More and more we are starting to see playgrounds, and playing fields covered in artificial synthetic turf. While there are some benefits to artificial turf, including low-cost maintenance and less potential for injuries, artificial turf may have potential environmental hazards that could overshadow its advantages. The crumb rubber used in artificial turf may include chemicals such as latex and other rubbers, phthalates, and toxic metals.

The EPA has done studies in attempts to uncover the potential harms of artificial turf. So far, the studies have not revealed any hazards of concern. It is suggested, however, that more studies should be done to better understand the potential environmental hazards of artificial synthetic turf.

The two sides of the argument have very strong points, each bringing issues even beyond the health standpoint and into the financial and environmental positions as well. I believe it is appropriate to view the issue as “unresolved.” More research should be done to learn more and make accurate decisions as the whether artificial turf is here to stay or needs to be taken away.

What are your opinions on artificial synthetic turf? Do you play on artificial turf?

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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30 Responses leave one →
  1. AmericanMAN permalink
    March 2, 2010

    If we thinly spray a protective and health enhancing enzyme on it-we can all be protected!

  2. March 2, 2010

    Some tire manufacturers now advertise the use of carbon nanotubes in their formulations, for lightweight strength and durability. Information should be developed about the stability, fate and transport of the chemicals, including nanomaterials, in tires. Only a small portion of the R&D budget for nano goes to environmental health and safety issues, despite significant data gaps. This issue is not just about playgrounds or synthetic turf, of course. Tires are more or less designed such that much of the tire wears off on the road over its life. What’s in the tire tread will soon be in the storm drain.

  3. armansyahardanis permalink
    March 2, 2010

    Sister Nicole,
    I think we don’t frighten only hazard too, maybe beside that its have an useful. Pure sterilized that isn’t good…….

  4. Sassafras permalink
    March 2, 2010

    I spent hours at a time swinging in a tire swing as a kid.
    I spent days inner-tubing downstream on local creeks as a teen.

    Did those tires and innertubes come with a label saying they were risk-free? No.

    Were they risk-free? No. I could’ve broken my neck or drowned, and its much more likely that either of those would have happened than that the rubber in the tires would have poisoned me. Just as it is much more likely that a child will be hurt on a playground by their own actions today than by the materials that the playground contains. Even if there are minute amounts of whatever in crumb rubber, kids don’t spend much time wallowing on the ground at the playground.

    Pick your battles based on actual risk! If you want to do something to ensure that kids are not exposed to toxins, make the school buses turn their engines off instead of idling for an hour at the school door. Ditto the carpool line.

  5. Scott Casper permalink
    March 2, 2010

    If the EPA decided artificial turf wasn’t safe enough for playgrounds, would we go back to concrete surfaces for kids to play on?

  6. Beth Babbit permalink
    March 2, 2010

    Maybe the question isn’t so much how or what chemicals are given off from these synthetics but what benefits are our children missing from not playing in the soil or playing in the shade of a large tree. Children are already surounded by so many synthetic surfaces- to play outside with nature is proven to be improve emotionally and psychologically beneficial (in addtion increased physical or reduced chemicals) than that of synthetic playgrounds.

  7. gary e. morin permalink
    March 2, 2010

    I first saw this story, I said “YEAH”! One of my mother’s borders for her horses, has schreaded tire material for the riding ring. After reading your full story: how could such a positive, bring down a negitive. This is where the suppliers, and manufacture’s really need to follow up on all safety hazards. This needs to be comunicated to the end user: Customer/ consumer!!

  8. gary e. morin permalink
    March 2, 2010

    Our play grounds had stone dust/ crush and run/ finely crushed blue stone; for the grounds. The Church of my child hood had ashpault for 1/2 of the play area, and natural ground for the balance. Fortunately, we were shaded by big PinnOak and Redoak trees. I like the mulch method, but hornets and wasps like to hide in that material. AS well as many other insects.

  9. David Mc permalink
    March 2, 2010

    Boy, I remember those. We used to play “crack the whip”. I had patches on patches and knee scabs on knee scabs.

  10. David Mc permalink
    March 2, 2010

    But what about the bugs? Kidding. I agree totally.

  11. David Mc permalink
    March 2, 2010

    We should look gift horses in the mouth. Remember the vermiculite WR Grace was donating for school playgrounds. Asbestos included free of charge.

  12. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    March 2, 2010

    Playing on astroterf is probably safer than concrete because if a child falls, trips, or jumps from playground equipment, the astroterf has built in give that concrete and even real ground don’t have, making injuries less serious. So that is a good thing about astroterf. I can still remember when I was in junior high and every year each school in the district did physical fitness testing with every student. The equipment was located in a grassy area by the track field, but every year during physical fitness testingweek, at least one student, nearly always one of the girls, would have a major accident on the overhead bars or something that would cause head or neck or rib problems and the fire trucks and ambulance would need to come out. In the town I lve in now, Mission Viejo, things have changed alot as far as our parks and playground equipment. We use real grass still, but now where children are at risk of falling, those areas are padded with sand half a foot or so deep. A person can land on the sand and not be seriously hurt or not hurt at all. That is something that cannot be said for astroterf. Also, the play equipment in the city parks has been engineered to eliminate sharp points and corners and seams between sections. Strong nonmetal material is used on slides which will provide some give if needed which the old metal playground slides could never do. But I think the biggest issue with astroterf is the chemicals that could be released into the air from it if it ever caught on fire. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  13. Wally Juglans permalink
    March 2, 2010

    If you ask a researcher if more research is needed, you will always get a resounding “Yes!”. They are a little less definite when asked who will pay for it or what the practical benefit might be.

  14. Jack Handey permalink
    March 2, 2010

    • Warning: Pregnant women, the elderly, and children under 10 should avoid prolonged exposure to tire crumbs.
    • Caution: tire crumbs may suddenly accelerate to dangerous speeds.
    • Tire crumbs contain a liquid core, which, if exposed due to rupture, should not be touched, inhaled, or looked at.
    • Do not use tire crumbs on concrete.
    • Discontinue use of tire crumbs if any of the following occurs:
    o itching
    o vertigo
    o dizziness
    o tingling in extremities
    o loss of balance or coordination
    o slurred speech
    o temporary blindness
    o profuse sweating
    o heart palpitations
    • If tire crumbs begin to smoke, get away immediately. Seek shelter and cover head.
    • Tire crumbs may stick to certain types of skin.
    • When not in use, tire crumbs should be returned to their special container and kept under refrigeration. Failure to do so relieves the makers of tire crumbs, Wacky Products Incorporated, and its parent company, Global Chemical Unlimited, of any and all liability.
    • Ingredients of tire crumbs include an unknown glowing green substance which fell to Earth, presumably from outer space.
    • Tire crumbs have been shipped to our troops in Saudi Arabia and is being dropped by our warplanes on Iraq.
    • Do not taunt tire crumbs.
    • Tire crumbs come with a lifetime warranty.

  15. Erin Russ permalink
    March 3, 2010

    I agree with Beth…why put yet another synthetic product out into the world when the real thing is so much better? I especially appreciate the first link in your post (linked to the words “artificial synthetic turf”) – the linked story really helped me learn more about the issues behind the topic. Not only is this a “nature vs. syntheic” issue, with the debate about toxic chemicals, but the issues raised in the link about asthma, etc from breathing particles released through playing on the surface; the temperatures generated near the playing surface; the increased risk of MRSAs from turf burns and also the debate about cost and water savings…just makes you wonder why it’s so necessary to reinvent the wheel. I also liked the mention of the CT town using organic field management and the great results they are seeing.

    Interesting topic, thanks for posting!

  16. Anne Ambler permalink
    March 3, 2010

    I agree with Erin an Beth. We appear to be raising synthetic children. When will they connect with the natural world, without which mental and physical health suffer greatly. But something so far not discussed about synthetic athletic fields is that they DO wear out–rather rapidly, too–when used to the extent intended. Their delicacy is underscored by the long list of forbidden activities.
    So a prospective purchaser must ask, do we have the budget to replace the field every 5-8 years? Because, of course, once you go that route, you are stuck forever. You’ll never have the funds to haul away that gravel bed and replace the soil you removed, so as to have a living, breathing field again once you determine that the hot, scratchy, lumpy plastic and tire waste field is not good for either the players’ health or the health of your waterways.

  17. David Mc permalink
    March 3, 2010

    Pea gravel works well also

  18. David Mc permalink
    March 3, 2010

    Now that was funny. Are you a lawyer?

  19. Al Bannet permalink
    March 4, 2010

    Wouldn’t it be better to play on well tended grass?

  20. murray mccory permalink
    March 4, 2010

    It is always a challenge to reduce, re-use and recycle. Our county received grant funding from the DOE to develop recycling. We tried several different options for re-using tire waste, which is an awesome problem. Playgrounds that get muddy are a good place, but not everywhere. Like all new technology, it is difficult to assess the value versus the unexpected outcome over time. I believe in starting small and going forward carefully. Playgrounds that are natural have all kinds of bugs and little critters that should be there. Kids naturally grow up with nature, learning as they go. I prefer natural in everything, but we have to use up these synthetic creations of ours—

  21. David Mc permalink
    March 4, 2010

    I have to say, I don’t hold anything against Grace as a company. They actually responded with medical care to many effected before they were forced to by law. They’re a good company today. There were a few old-time bad/ ignorant apples. We all need to live and learn.

  22. Al Bannet permalink
    March 5, 2010

    “…we have to use up these synthetic creations of ours -” So, used automobile tires are being chopped up and dumped into playgrounds, even though some of the kids are allergic to rubber. Typical reliance on percentages.

  23. wade harter permalink
    March 10, 2010

    What is wrong with grass and good old dirt? We used to draw a ring on the dirt and shoot marbles for hours. This is just another example of the changes in the new generation. Look at what has happened to autos. In lieu of controlling auto speed with a cable we send it thru a computer. Don’t know about you but my computer (i am forced to use one at work) sometimes goes haywire. Come to think about it Toyota autos have been doing as such lately. But back to the subject of playgrounds, it is surprising that we even design such “hazardous” areas into our schools. You can really get hurt playing ball, running and jumping.

  24. Anonymous permalink
    April 17, 2010

    What about the break down of rubber mulch
    after 6 years. The dust created when
    the kids run on the rubber mulch on my daughter’s
    playground is TRULY scary!! It is left on their
    skin all day and breathed into their lungs ijn high
    concentration.

  25. Anonymous permalink
    April 17, 2010

    What about the break down of rubber mulch
    after 6 years. The dust created when
    the kids run on the rubber mulch on my daughter’s
    playground is TRULY scary!! It is left on their
    skin all day and breathed into their lungs in high
    concentrations.

  26. SLW permalink
    October 20, 2010

    Not funny if you have had a severe allergic reaction from the airborne particles that tire mulch at playgrounds emits! I didn’t even go into the playground area where the mulch was–I was about 20 yards from the entrance to the park on a warm summer day when I was suddenly affected. I was not sure at first what was even happening and within 10 minutes I was in an ambulance in respiratory distress from the airborne latex particles from the tire mulch. Warm weather causes the mulch to heat up which causes chemicals from the tires to be emitted into the air. Some of these chemicals have been identified as carcinogens. I beg for more research into the long term exposure/use of tire crumbles before we are having to do studies to on how to stop the increase in new cancers found in our children!!!

  27. Fadi permalink
    December 19, 2010

    I certainly agree. After all, we are after the health and fitness of our kids. So we should take heed.

  28. http://www.neatfeetcare.com permalink
    February 2, 2012

    Excellent read… Love your post!

  29. Marilee permalink
    October 8, 2012

    Our daughter and son-in-law moved to a home with tire mulch on a small backyard playground. Now, two months later, their golden retriever is sick with sporadic vomiting and “acting weird”. They are taking him back to their vet today. After googling tire mulch I am wondering if the dog is ill from being exposed. Any comments out there? They are expecting their first child and after reading emails, perhaps they should get rid of this product.

  30. Chris permalink
    January 29, 2014

    Re-use offers many opportunities. of course public health is of upmost import. I’ve seen car tyres re-used as roof tiles here in Australia

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