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Environmental Services Newsletter

Battelle Environment Matters

July 2016 - Issue 2

Is Tire Mulch a Threat to Children’s Health?

Crumb rubber, also known as tire mulch, provides a soft, squishy landing on children’s playgrounds and sports fields. Made from recycled automotive tires, the material is also used on college and professional sports fields as a cushion to minimize impact injuries. But could this kid-friendly material be a hazard to their health? Battelle has started an investigation to find out.

In Battelle’s Norwell, Massachusetts analytical laboratory, a team of scientists is working with a local organization to determine the chemical content of rubber turf products sold as mulch and installed in playgrounds, gardens and other venues. After individuals in the community raised concerns about children coming into contact with this material in a new playground, the organization contacted Battelle requesting assistance in identifying potential chemical exposure.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also expressed concern about the material. EPA recently announced a new multi-agency program, the Federal Research Action Plan on Recycled Tire Crumbs Used on Playing Fields and Playgrounds to investigate the human health and environmental risks associated with the use of crumb rubber as synthetic turf.

Children and athletes are exposed to crumb rubber dermally when they come in contact with it. There is also potential for inhalation or ingestion exposure when people impact the material with their upper bodies. Recycled rubber is in widespread use for everything from furniture to animal toys, and is generally labeled as an eco-friendly solution. However, from the preliminary research conducted in this area, it is unclear whether that label accurately applies. Crumb rubber contains numerous potential carcinogenic and toxic substances, and the exposure risks for people playing on or coming in contact with these materials is not well understood.

With Battelle’s years of work in the area of oil and gas fingerprinting, impact assessment, method development and public health risk assessment as the basis, Battelle has begun characterizing the hazards contained within this product including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and volatile organic compounds. Following this characterization, the next step will be to determine at what levels these components are released under various environmental settings and the pathways in which they can come into contact with humans and the environment. This study is an important first step to understanding the potential exposure risks of these popular playground material.