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Consider the Science

A toxicologist with nearly two decades of experience in human health-risk assessment wrote a letter to the editor in Martha’s Vineyard MV Times saying it’s his belief that an EHHI report doesn’t provide any scientific evidence that recycled rubber infill poses a risk to children. See that full letter below.

To the Editor:

In response to the recent debate around recycled rubber infill for artificial turf fields on Martha’s Vineyard, it’s important to carefully consider the science on this issue (May 5, “Synthetic turf proposal modified in the face of stiff opposition”).

The reality is that there is a substantial body of research — more than 90 peer-reviewed studies, reports, and evaluations from academics, state health departments, and third parties — that does not show any link between recycled rubber and health concerns. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health itself weighed in, and noted that the existing research does not show any significant reasons for concern.

Those opposed to recycled rubber infill do not have much scientific evidence to support their concerns. They usually point to a report from Connecticut-based Environment & Human Health, Inc. (EHHI), which purported to identify a number of carcinogens in recycled rubber, using harsh extraction methods. But the reality is that the mere presence of a chemical does not necessarily indicate there is a risk, or that this chemical is present in an amount above accepted baselines. Those studies that have evaluated actual exposure and risk have generally found that exposure to chemicals in recycled rubber are well below levels where health effects would be a concern. Furthermore, the EHHI report was not peer-reviewed — a standard part of the scientific process.

As a toxicologist with nearly two decades of experience in human health-risk assessment, it’s my belief that this EHHI report doesn’t provide any scientific evidence that recycled rubber infill poses a risk to children.

Furthermore, many opponents of recycled rubber mention the safety of natural turf. Just to provide some context, some of the chemicals found in recycled rubber that have been discussed as a source of concern, namely heavy metals such as lead and arsenic, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are found at similar levels in natural soils and recycled rubber.

Hopefully the upcoming studies by U.S. government agencies will finally provide closure on this issue. Children’s safety should be placed above all else, but when making decisions about Martha’s Vineyard’s fields, unsubstantiated fears shouldn’t undermine science. The bottom line is that the best available science indicates recycled rubber does not pose health concerns.

Michael Peterson
Leavenworth, Wash.

Mr. Peterson is a board-certified toxicologist at Gradient, a Cambridge-based environmental and risk-sciences consulting firm. He serves as scientific adviser to the Recycled Rubber Council.

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