The rubber synthetic turf industry is embroiled in public controversy, and it must fight to get its story told, according to a rubber recycling executive.
The current body of scientific evidence is unequivocal in showing no link between exposure to crumb rubber and any sort of disease, said Amy Brackin, business and marketing development manager for Liberty Tire Recycling.
“The most common four chemicals in crumb rubber that have been brought up as points of concern are arsenic, benzene, cadmium and nickel,” Brackin said in a presentation at the International Tire Exhibition & Conference, held last month in Akron, OH.
“The problem is, like many things, context is needed. Rubber turf has less arsenic than rice, less cadmium than lobster, less nickel than chocolate and less benzene than a can of soda,” she said.
Brackin spoke partly on behalf of the Synthetic Turf Council, a 210-member association of artificial rubber turf producers founded in 2003.
The STC is in a coalition comprised of the Institute of Scrap Processing Industries, the Safe Fields Alliance and the Recycled Rubber Council. They joined forces to defend the safety and utility of crumb rubber infill in artificial athletic turf, she said.
Infilled rubber athletic turf is still a new industry, Brackin said, with the first rubber-infilled athletic field installed in 1997.
Since 2007, about 4.5 billion feet of synthetic turf has been installed worldwide, including 800 million feet in the U.S. alone, she said.
Some 20,000 scrap tires are used in every infilled athletic field, according to Brackin.
“These fields are durable systems that can last eight years or more,” she said.
“When they wear out,” she said, “many of their components can be recycled, including the recycled rubber infill.
“They need no water for irrigation. They need no fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides.”
The artificial turf industry was perplexed two years ago when news reports from NBC News and other outlets presented anecdotal evidence purporting to link crumb rubber exposure to cancer, according to Brackin.
“Because synthetic turf and crumb rubber were now synonymous in the media, we decided we needed a collaborative effort, and so we got to work,” Brackin said of the industry coalition.
The coalition hired a firm to study current awareness and perceptions of crumb rubber, according to Brackin.
Based on these results, the industry chose an evidence-based message strategy with specific messaging for various stakeholders, she said.
The industry’s message stressed the safety, economic and environmental benefits of crumb rubber in artificial turf, Brackin said.
Among the facts it stressed were:
The recycled rubber industry generates more than $1.6 billion in revenue and directly or indirectly supports some 8,000 jobs.
More than 90 scientific studies show no link between recycled rubber and disease, although the industry supports further research on the issue.
Using recycled rubber in molded products reduces the carbon footprint as compared with virgin plastic resins by as much as 20 times.
The Safe Fields Alliance created an educational video explaining these issues, and the coalition used social media to expand its outreach, Brackin said.
The coalition also reached out to some of the mainstream media, getting its message into a number of publications, including USA Today, The Huffington Post and The New Haven Register, she said.
“We reach out to reporters covering the story and assist in any way we can, as well as fielding inbound requests,” she said.
Meanwhile, the industry is closely watching the multi-agency federal study of crumb rubber athletic turf, as well as concurrent studies by the European Chemicals Agency, the Washington Department of Occupational Health and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Brackin said.