Playground Surfacing Focus Groups
The public, media, and government agencies have expressed concern that the chemicals in surfaces derived from recycled tires may be hazardous to human health. In February 2016, the Federal Research Action Plan on Recycled Tire Crumb Used on Playing Fields and Playgrounds was announced. This is a multi-agency effort, which includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), performing research that seeks to improve the understanding of potential health effects of recreational exposures to recycled tires. The CPSC is studying exposures of children to playground surfaces derived from recycled tires. Ultimately, the CPSC intends to initiate a nationwide survey to acquire representative exposure data, and in turn, inform future research in the associated hazards.
To direct survey design and development, FMG, in collaboration with staff from the CPSC, led three focus groups and three in-depth interviews. Twenty-six participants were asked about a variety of topics, such as exposure scenarios, activity patterns, adult supervision, and safety concerns. Some areas of concern reported by participants in the study include, but are not limited to, the following:
- children who may frequently mouth and chew rubber surfacing materials,
- rubber surfacing that can leave stains on children’s skin and clothing,
- children who may not be cleaned/sanitized until they return from the playground,
- guardians who are often distracted by electronics, work and other playground visitors, and
- how guardians may sometimes allow children out of their line of sight.
The findings from this study raise awareness of significant concerns that warrant further investigation. If the nationwide survey confirms that these issues are widespread, then future research and remediation could be warranted. The attached report details the background, methodology, and findings from the focus groups and interviews, as well as the next steps of the project.
Tire Crumb Rubber Research
Researchers at EPA are currently evaluating the samples to characterize the chemical make-up of tire crumbs. An additional study activity will gather activity data from people who regularly perform activities on turf fields. Collection of tire crumb samples from fields and recycling facilities is complete. Tire crumb samples were gathered from nine tire crumb recycling plants, 19 fields located on US Army installations and 21 community fields across the U.S. The analysis of the samples is currently underway. Fields included both outdoor and indoor fields. To protect privacy, the specific locations of the fields being sampled cannot be released.
EPA, ATSDR, and CPSC have engaged various stakeholder groups through a number of outreach activities including webinars, conference calls, in-person meetings, and a public comment process. Stakeholder outreach efforts were targeted to the public as well as specific stakeholder groups such as government organizations (other federal agencies, state agencies, local government and international government), industry and non-profit/interest groups.
The Synthetic Turf Fields with Tire Crumb Rubber Infill Research Protocol document which is providing guidance for the studies has been extensively reviewed, including an external peer-review and an Institutional Review Board review, and the document is now final. One of the main research activities is gathering tire crumb samples from tire crumb manufacturing plants and from fields across the country. The data collection for the tire crumb samples and analysis went through a public comment period and an Information Collection Request review conducted by the Office of Management and Budget. Peer-review and public comments are publicly available on the OMB’s website.
CPSC is using a combination of field observations, focus groups, and a national survey of parents and child care providers to collect information on children’s behaviors on playgrounds and identify exposure factors. CPSC staff use information gathered by the field observations and focus groups to develop a national survey of parents and caregivers which is currently under OMB review. Findings of the national survey will be used to inform development of exposure scenarios and exposure factors which can be used to estimate children’s exposure to substances of concern in playground surfaces made with recycles tires.
As it is available, updated information will be posted to EPA’s tire crumb website (www.epa.gov/tirecrumb). When the EPA and ATSDR studies are completed, the agencies intend to release a final peer-reviewed report describing the findings and conclusions of two study activities--the characterization of the chemicals and materials found in tire crumbs and the characterization of the exposure scenarios for those who use turf fields containing tire crumbs. The report will also outline any additional research needs and next steps. Our agency’s playground study will continue.
The report titled, “Summary of Playground Surfacing Focus Groups,” presents the findings of research conducted by the Fors Marsh Group (FMG), under Contract CPSC-D-16-0002.
Advice for Communities Concerned about Playgrounds with Recycled Tire Surfaces
We recognize that communities, parents and state and local officials are concerned about recycled tire materials used in playground surfacing. The study’s findings will provide a better understanding of potential exposures children may experience by using playgrounds with recycled tire surfacing. While this short-term study won’t provide all the answers, the information will help answer some of the key questions that have been raised.
Communities, parents, state and local officials are encouraged to explore Federal Agency websites (CPSC - https://www.cpsc.gov/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-Centers/Crumb-Rubber-Safety-Information-Center and EPA - www.epa.gov/tirecrumbs) to review the research results available to date on the use of recycled rubber tires for playgrounds and artificial turf fields. In addition, concerned individuals can check their state’s public health agency websites to determine if there are state-specific recommendations.
While no specific chemical hazards from recycled tires in playground surfacing are known by the CPSC at this time, the following precautions to limit exposure are recommended:
Avoid mouth contact with playground surfacing materials, including mouthing, chewing, or swallowing playground rubber. This may pose a choking hazard, regardless of chemical exposure.
Avoid eating food or drinking beverages while directly on playground surfaces, and wash hands before handling food.
Limit the time at a playground on extremely hot days.
Clean hands and other areas of exposed skin after visiting the playground, and consider changing clothes if evidence of tire materials (e.g., black marks or dust) is visible on fabrics.
Clean any toys that were used on a playground after the visit.