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After reviewing studies, VS Board chooses crumb rubber for new turf project

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News :: After reviewing studies, VS Board chooses crumb rubber for new turf project

By Dean Close 9:44am January 15th, 2015 23 hours ago
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For as long as athletes – from the smallest youth soccer players to the highest-paid celebrities – have been practicing and performing on synthetic turf fields cushioned with rubber crumbs from recycled tires, the leaders of sports organizations, schools and medical experts have pondered and studied the safety of those fields, and those crumbs.

The question became a national issue in November of 2014, after NBC News aired television segments about a soccer coach and a soccer player who believe the cause of the cancer was the chemicals in those crumbs.

The issue quickly became a national topic of debate last autumn, with leaders from small-town school board to members of Congress seeking more information. The most-curious, and most-concerned leaders were those contemplating using a synthetic rubber turf for the first time. Among those concerned people were members of the Vinton-Shellsburg School Board.

When someone mentioned at a 2014 school board meeting that the NBC story came at a bad time for the proposed V-S project, school board member Megan Rickels disagreed.

“It’s perfect timing,” she said, adding that school officials need to be sure that the field they choose will not harm student-athletes.

The turf project continued throughout the late months of 2014, but Rickels – a youth soccer mom and a youth soccer coach – along with several other district leaders, spent more time researching the safety of crumb rubber athletic fields.

School board members took their concerns to this month’s meeting, where they listened to an hour-long discussion about field turf options after spending hours over the previous few weeks reviewing a variety of studies.

Despite the anecdotal evidence and the fears of those soccer players and coach in the Pacific Northwest, no study has ever linked synthetic rubber crumbs to cancer – a fact mentioned in the NBC story.

V-S officials (and Vinton Today) reviewed several studies: A study in Connecticut concluded that often government health agencies have overstated the risks. A New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection study declared that risks are "de minimus" – Latin for "too trivial or minor to merit consideration." A study by a hematologist at the Karmanos Cancer Center of Detroit's Wayne State University saying that there is no link between synthetic rubber turf and cancer.

“The health benefits of playing sports far outweigh keeping your kids indoors,” said Dr Abhinav Deol, M.D.. “The data is not there to support keeping kids from playing on artificial turf.”

But the study that did the most to convince Vinton-Shellsburg leaders that crumb rubber turf products are safe took place in Paris, at the request of a private Montreal K-12 school.

Leaders at Lower Canada College sent samples of their crumb rubber to a lab in France, where they asked for it to be tested at the stringent European standard known as EN 71-3, which includes stricter guideline for children’s toys than any American rule. The crumb rubber tested there passed tests in every category, and in many categories, no hazards were present at all. (See the technical, scientific details of the studyHERE.)

“I am familiar with EN 71-3,” said board member Kathy Van Steenhuyse, who said she had worked with those standards at her job at Kirkwood. “The thing that assures me is that the crumb rubber matches the toy standards of the European model. On that basis I am more comfortable to go away from some of the other choices.”

During the meeting, the board had heard about some other options, including a cork-based infill and another blend made from left-over rubber used in the production of Nike shoes. However, since cork has a very low weight, it presents more maintenance issues (as well as a higher initial cost).

The board unanimously voted to install the crumb rubber, although Van Steenhuyse said that further studies over the expected 8-12-year life span of the turf may impact the board’s decisions in the future.

Board member Rob Levis noted that Americans use many products – including the plastic bottle from which he sipped water during the meeting – made from materials that in some form could pose health risks.

"The evidence is overwhelming that it is safe," said board member and VS assistant football coach Mike Timmermans.

And Rickels, while saying “there’s no way I can put a price on my children’s health,” also acknowledged that other items such as microwave ovens have been the subject of studies and speculation in the past.

During the meeting, board members learned that while the cork has been used in some parts of the U.S. and in some other countries, virtually all of the turf projects done in the Midwest, including the recently-installed high school fields in eastern Iowa, have consisted of the crumb rubber.

Click HERE to see links to several more studies.


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