Parents concerned about safety of rubber mulch

David Taber

Gazette Photo by David Taber
Parents have raised concerns about the shredded rubber tires used as ground cover on some refurbished playgrounds on the Southwest Corridor Park. The state Department of Conservation and Recreation says the “rubber mulch” is safe and plans to host a meeting for local parents, Weds., June 16, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the playground next to the tennis courts on New Minton Street, pictured here.

State to host meeting

Health Connection

SOUTHWEST CORRIDOR—Some parents are concerned that tires recycled into shredded “rubber mulch” covering new playgrounds on the Southwest Corridor Park might be toxic, Department of Conservation and Recreation Spokesperson Wendy Fox told the Gazette last week.

In response, DCR officials plan to be on hand at the park June 16 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the New Minton Street playground to discuss those concerns, Fox said. [See JP Agenda.]

Three newly installed DCR playgrounds—at New Minton Street; Boylston and Amory streets and Carolina Avenue and Call Street use the mulch, which consists of loose rubber chips.

One parent, Audrey White, sent DCR an e-mail—also forwarded to the Gazette, local elected officials and others—saying she is “extremely concerned about the toxic smell being released by the rubber chips” at New Minton Street. After a recent visit to the park, “My eyes were stinging after just a few minutes and my 2-year-old son complained of a sore throat. I do not believe that it’s completely safe and non-toxic…” she said.

“We would not have put it on the playgrounds if we thought it was toxic,” Fox told the Gazette. “It can have an odor.”

Keith Sacks, a spokesperson for Rubberecycle, the manufacturer of the New Minton playground mulch, told the Gazette “the hard research, clear science and facts state that the use of the product is safe.”

Rubberecycle’s rubber mulch was installed on a playground at the White House last year, he said. “I think this is something where people are trying to create a story where there is no story anymore.”

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) web site lists 30 compounds or materials “that may be found in tires” including the toxins acetone, arsenic, lead and mercury. The mere presence of those chemicals does not imply toxicity, though. There have only been scant studies of the health effects of the recycled tire materials and there is no conclusive evidence that they are toxic, according to a factsheet on the web site.

The EPA has so far has only conducted a “limited-scale scoping study to test a study protocol and monitoring methods for generating environmental data associated with the use of recycled tire materials on artificial turf fields and playgrounds,” according to a fact sheet on the web site.

For playgrounds, recycled tires are often shredded into chunks the size of wood mulch chips. They are sometimes also shredded into smaller pellets and sprinkled over Astroturf fields to make that surface more forgiving. The rubber mulch is also sometimes used as groundcover for gardens.

The EPA study found that the leaching of chemicals from recycled tires was “on average…below levels of concern; however, given the very limited nature of the study…and the wide diversity of tire crumb material, it is not possible to extend the results beyond the four study sites or to reach any more comprehensive conclusions without the consideration of additional data.”

The State of Connecticut’s Agricultural Research Station, in conjunction with Connecticut-based non-profit, Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI), conducted a small-scale study in 2007 that found that “under relatively mild conditions of temperature and leaching solvent, components of crumb rubber produced from tires…volatilize into the vapor phase and…are leached into water in contact with the crumbs,” the EPA report said. That laboratory study did not establish whether the levels of toxins escaping from the products are potentially harmful.

A 2007 study conducted by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment “concluded that there appeared to be little long-term risk to human health” from recycled tire turf products, the fact sheet said. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2008 looked at the risks of lead poisoning from artificial turf fields and concluded there is no risk.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has not studied the safety of tire mulch.

EHHI executive director Nancy Alderman told the Gazette she thinks the EPA should put more effort into studying the health effects of recycled tire mulch.

“People assume in this country that things are tested,” she said.

Fox forwarded the Gazette a list of government agencies and trade groups “that have approved the use of rubber mulch” including the “Department of Environmental Protection” DEP. But after the Gazette contacted the Massachusetts DEP requesting comment for this article last week, Fox told the Gazette she had been referring to the New Jersey DEP.

At community meetings earlier this year, DCR officials had said they planned to use a solid “poured in place” rubber ground cover for the new playgrounds.

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