Concerns about Crumb Rubber Infill

Many people email, call or stop me on the street and ask me about the artificial turf project.  I wanted to share with residents, especially those that are very much in favor of adding turf to Wildcat Middle, about my concerns with crumb rubber turf.   Hopefully this will continue the conversation before the design presentation in April and fill in the gaps about why organic fill should be seriously considered.

Where are the fields?

Below is the Google Earth map of the location of the current artificially turfed field (High School), the proposed turf fields currently in the planning stages (Wildcat/Middle) and the Capital Projects for the School District indicate a future turfed field at the Rockpile.*

map of turf fields

  • Wildcat/Middle Field- Lower left fields
  • High School Field- Right artificial turf field
  • Rockpile Field- Below the High School field*                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  *According to School District documents we could see the Rockpile turfed after the high school project is complete.  Approximately 2016.  If so, we will have 4 turfed fields in Main Park area.

page 23 CIP Mt Lebanon High School






Kelly’s Questions

First let me share my ongoing questions when it comes to turf-

1.  Why would companies be offering filtration systems for our waterways, but not                      have any reservations about putting a child on the turf that they are filtering the                  particles from?

2.  Why with all the regulations on tires in our dumps and disposal centers would we                  find the tires any different laying out on a field getting stuck on our children’s                         clothing and skin, or worse, ingesting/inhaling the crumbs or crumb dust?

3.  Why would some promote significant hand washing and in some cases showering                  after use of their product?

4.  With the listing of elements and gases directly related to the product, why would                companies feel comfortable with the use of the product especially for children?

“After a review of the literature, the EPA identified a number of compounds or materials that may be found in tires, although not all are contained in every tire” Including listing below is from the EPA.

5.  Cleaning and maintenance?   Is it truly less expensive if done properly?  What                       needs to be done to avoid exposure to harmful infections and materials left on the                 turf? What needs to be done to maintain the manufacturer warranty?

Cleaning tips from a turf vendor.

From SynPro

Artificial Turf Cleaning by Professional Sports Field Services

6.  Why hasn’t anyone done testing over years of concerns about the effects of turf on                children?  At this point we have only research on adults.  I do think information on                adults is important for coaches, parents and adult athletes, but what about the                      kids?  Why with all the questions are the kids becoming “guinea pigs”?

7.  Why would a community like Mt Lebanon that has touted our reputation on being                 environmentally friendly, implement a Cool Cities Initiative, even contemplate crumb           rubber turf, but more importantly since this project has been voted on to move                     forward, why wouldn’t the community be demanding organic fill?

Please read the article from Envir Human Health in full which raises more questions about crumb rubber.  “These studies conclusively demonstrate that the tire crumbs and the tire mulch release chemical compounds into the air and ground water. Thus, tire crumbs constitute a chemical exposure for humans and for the environment.”

One of the initial google searches I began in my personal research on turf was on scrap tires.  I found this link for “Starting a Scrap Tire Company A Blueprint for Planning a Business Strategy”.  I thought reading as much as I can about scrap tires, which is the crumb rubber infill for turf, would give me a perspective of what materials kids could be exposed to on the turf.  Reading along it was initially boring basic stuff and then I saw the section Tire Composition.  (page 2)

            “Here is a quick summary of the major classes of materials used in the                 tire manufacturing process by the percentage of the total weight of the               finished tire that each materials class represents in a passenger tire:                   natural rubber 14 percent, synthetic rubber 27 percent, carbon black                   28 percent, steel 15 percent, miscellaneous (fabric, fillers,                                         accelerators, antiozonants) 17 percent:  In truck tire the breakdown                   is:  nature rubber 27 percent, synthetic rubber 14 percent, carbon                         black 28 percent, steel 15 percent, miscellaneous (fabric, fillers,                             accelerators, antiozonants) 16 percent.”

 Carbon Black caught my attention.  I have heard about Carbon Black many times when it comes to health related concerns.  Top percentage of material in the tires that will be used for crumb rubber infill for artificial turf will be Carbon Black or Black Carbon.  It raised my level of concern, how about you?


           “In the PM family, black carbon is a major contributor to the fine                            particle (PM2.5) burden in the air. It is small enough to be easily                          inhaled into the lungs and has been associated with adverse health                     effects. Whether black carbon is itself toxic or functions as an                                 indicator of other co-pollutants is currently under debate. But, clearly,             black carbon is associated with asthma, and other respiratory                                 problems, low birth weights, heart attacks and lung cancer. EPA                             scientists study the effects of particles including black carbon on                           human health through clinical and animal testing.”


           “Black Carbon (BC) influences climate by:

            1.        directly absorbing light;

            2.        reducing the reflectivity (“albedo”) of snow and ice through                                    deposition; and

            3.        interacting with clouds.

             Through these mechanisms, BC has been linked to a range of climate                  impacts, including increased temperatures and accelerated ice and                    snow melt.”


             “BC also contributes to surface dimming, the formation of Atmospheric                Brown Clouds (ABCs), and changes in the pattern and intensity of                        precipitation. Reducing current emissions of BC may help slow the                      near-term rate of climate change, particularly in sensitive regions                        such as the Arctic.”

I know we are not close to the Arctic, even after our Winter this year, but we will possibly see climate changes.


                “BC contributes to the adverse impacts on human health, ecosystems,                   and visibility associated with ambient fine particles (PM2.5).  Short-                     term and long-term exposures to PM2.5 are associated with a broad                       range of human health impacts, including respiratory and                                       cardiovascular effects as well as premature death.”

Third example, provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Services, CDC, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and Division of Standards Development and Technology Transfer Dated 1988 but is still used today.  OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH GUIDELINE FOR CARBON BLACK  

                   “Summary of Toxicology

                    1. Effects on animals:  inhalation of carbon black by mice, rats and                            monkeys caused thickened alveolar walls, increased pulmonary                            collagen, right atrial and ventricular strain, hypertrophy of the                              right and left ventricles and septum and increased  heart                                         weights.  Although carbon black itself did not cause cancer in                                 treated animals, carbon black containing plymuclear                                                 hydrocarbons (PNAs) or PAHs did cause cancer following chronic                         administration by all routes tested.

                   2.  Effects on humans:  Chronic inhalation exposure of production                             workers has caused decreased pulmonary function and                                               myocardial dystrophy.  There is suggestive but inconclusive                                     evidence that carbon black containing PAHs has been   responsible for induction of skin cancer in exposed workers.

                   SIGNS and SYMPTOMS OF EXPOSURE

                         Long-term (chronic):  Inhalation of carbon black can cause                                      cough, phlegm, tiredness, chest pain and headache.  Dermal                                    mucosal or inhalation exposure can cause irritation.”

Many, many articles and “hits” come up when searching health risks of Black Carbon.  Some are more balanced then others, please use your judgment.

Now, if you are thinking the crumb rubber isn’t as much in the air or any of the other elements please continue to read.

Please read this,  CDC:  Artificial Turf

             “The risk for harmful lead exposure is low for new fields with elevated                 lead levels in their turf fibers because the turf fibers are still intact                       and the lead is unlikely to be available for harmful exposures to                             occur.  As the turf ages and weathers, lead is released in dust that                         could then be ingested or inhaled and the risk for harmful exposure                     increases.  If exposures do occur, CDC currently does not know how                     much lead the body will absorb; however, if enough lead is absorbed, it              can cause neurological development symptoms (e.g. deficits in IQ).                      Additional tests are being performed by NJDHSS to help us better                          understand the absorption of lead from these products.”

Center for Environmental Health  Lead in Artificial Turf

Field Turf, specifics of lead vs lead-free 

One piece worth reading, because it will sound all too familiar, please know it’s an opinion piece but well thought out and written in my opinion.

Are Artificial Turf Fields Carcinogenic?  by Samuel Liu November 1, 2013

               “With the plethora of studies in dispute, as is common in scientific                       process, the research on cancer risk is far from conclusive.  In the                        meantime, we have put the cart before the horse:  We have built these                potentially toxic fields before clearing them for safety.”

               “There are carcinogens everywhere, the cynical argument goes.  But                      that’s never been a good reason to ignore risk:  By that reasoning, we                    shouldn’t worry about any toxins at all.  These fields may present a                      significant cancer risk—if Hagemann’s comments are correct, just                      the inhalation risk is comparable to that of living next to a chemical                    refinery—and the real-life consequences of these threats have yet to                    be realized.”   

Find a follow up letter on this article.

What do the Competitors say?

What I learned from reading many items from grass/sod companies has continued my quest to get the answers to the above questions.  These competitors, even if you perceive them as biased against artificial turf, still raise fair questions about artificial turf products.

Turfgrass Producers International

turfgrass resource center

Municipalities, schools and groups are beginning to wake-up to the potential problems and negative affects involved with artificial turf. Several have placed a moratorium on its use until more of these questions have valid, scientific answers based on proven data. Parents, athletic booster clubs, schools boards, athletic directors, coaches and local officials deserve answers to help them evaluate unsubstantiated claims.”

My overall concerns become the moms, dads, grandparents and others that will participate watching their young child kick their first goal and have no knowledge or understanding of the potential risks that the turf may be exposing them all to.  If they are ok with taking that risk, then I would feel more comfortable, but if they are not aware, I find that a problem.

Please note that my only agenda for this blog was to share my personal concerns about the health and well-being of our residents.  I am only one Commissioner and as many know I was the minority in the vote of this project.  I have additional concerns about this project cost, sustainability and ultimately supported the increase in funding of our grass fields and adding new fields to the area, but again I am only one vote.

This blog post is not about the above issues.  This is solely about my concerns of health impacts for children, adults, coaches, neighbors to the park and drivers along Cedar Blvd.


Blogs of opinions:

7/10/2012 Huffington Post blog 3 Dangers of Artificial Turf  By Maria Rodale

3/10/2014 The Seattle Times  Sigi Schmid on an artificial turf controversy:  ‘It’s not like one is better than the other’  By Joshua Mayers




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