Amid concerns over the safety of the crumb rubber used in synthetic playing fields and calls for further scientific study, one organization appears to be taking the lead in getting answers. The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation will have a lab test the crumb-rubber fill that is on multiple synthetic turf playing fields funded by the foundation to determine whether there is a possible link between crumb rubber and cancer.
The foundation, which has funded construction of 42 synthetic turf fields around the country, is paying to have the crumb rubber from six of fields tested by a Canadian lab. The six fields chosen for testing are located in different areas across the country, which will allow the tests to take into account how differing climates could affect the crumb rubber. The fields also vary in age, ranging anywhere from three years old to the field used by Everett Boys and Girls Club in Everett, Wash, which opened this past November.
According to the vice president of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation Chuck Brady, there are numerous health studies on the material that raise “absolutely no concern.” But he said the national reports on crumb rubber “got our attention to say, ‘Hey, we need to check our fields.’ ”
Brady also mentioned that the foundation has “spent a long time this past year doing as much research as we could.”
Testing the fields is no simple task, according to Brady. “There's so many variables that may make one field have some toxic rubber in it and others not,” he said. An example he gives of this is that tires from trucks and cars might have been driven in areas with contaminated soil.
Brady says that if the tests show any problems with the crumb rubber, the foundation will replace the crumb rubber at all 42 fields throughout the country. It is estimated that this will cost about $50,000 per field.
However, until the tests come back, those who use the fields do so under the impression that the crumb rubber is safe.
Bill Tsoukalas is the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Snohomish County, which uses one of the synthetic turf fields constructed by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. He says that as of now, they are not concerned with the safety of the fields.
“We’re going with the assumption that they’re OK until we get this independent review on whether they are or not. If they are not, they’ve assured us they’ll take corrective actions.”