Letter to the Editor: Crumb rubber has no proven health risks

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The athletic field at Wilson High School was among more than a dozen in D.C. schools and parks to undergo emergency repairs. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

When assessing recycled rubber infill for synthetic turf fields, it is critical to understand that potential health effects from any chemicals in the rubber have been studied extensively [“District backs off plans for crumb rubber at Janney Elementary field,” Sept. 6]. The best available science indicates that there is no reason for health concerns in this regard. Dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles and multiple state health agencies support this conclusion, and several new studies have confirmed this finding as recently as this year.

It is certainly understandable that parents and community members want to be prudent and take every possible precaution in protecting their children. There is always at least some uncertainty in all areas of scientific inquiry, but the key is to look to the best available science.

For instance, studies that have examined heavy metal content in synthetic turf have found them to be largely in line with, or lower than, those found in natural soils. In addition, the presence of chemicals in a substance does not necessarily imply a health risk. We interact with products with potentially harmful chemicals and carcinogens every day (for example, your iPhone, your computer, your carpet). However, because exposures are low, there is generally no reason for health concerns.

Children’s safety — both now and in the long term — is absolutely paramount. But baseless fears shouldn’t undermine the science. Hopefully, over the course of the next year, D.C. officials and residents will analyze the available data and come to the same conclusion.

Michael Peterson, a board-certified toxicologist at Gradient, an environmental and risk sciences consulting firm. He serves as scientific adviser to leading members of the recycled rubber and synthetic turf industries.