Letter: Playgrounds no place for ground-up tire mulch

Playgrounds no place for ground-up tires

To the editor:

It was with great interest that I read your Nov. 9 article about the recent rally in support of the artificial turf field at Berkshire Community College. As a Berkshire resident, local physician, and mother of a four-year-old child, I am greatly concerned about the increased use of ground-up tires on playgrounds throughout the Berkshires. Of course, your article focused on artificial turf at BCC; but my concerns about playgrounds and the concerns of the opponents of the BCC field are similar and related.

Ground-up rubber tire mulch has been advertised as a softer and thus safer cover for children's playgrounds, supposedly lowering the risk of injuries. These claims, however, are still subject to debate.

In fact, FIFA (the international soccer association) reports no difference in injuries on artificial turf versus grass; but the NFL's Injury and Safety Panel found 88 percent more knee injuries on field turf then on grass.

Ground-up rubber tires might, in fact, be one of the most dangerous materials we let our children play on. The mulch includes recognized (benzene) or suspected carcinogens (e.g., butylated hydroxyanisole), known endocrine disruptors (e.g., phthalates, butylated hydroxyanisole), neurotoxins, teratogens, mutagens, skin, lung and eye irritants, and reproductive toxins. Many of the chemicals have no established safety whatsoever.

Exposure to any of these toxins is bad enough, but our children are "swimming in a soup of toxins" near rubber mulch. Such simultaneous toxic exposure is known to cause far bigger risks than any individual toxin exposures, and may contribute to their risk of cancer later in life.

Even a few seconds spent on such playgrounds (especially on a hot summer day) and you will appreciate the stench of volatile compounds — benzothizole, toluene, acetone, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and naphtalene. Many people (including myself) develop headaches right away while near rubber mulch, as well as red eyes and airway irritation caused by these irritants. But the most dangerous, life-threatening consequences of exposure might occur decades later.

I am thrilled that our community cares about supporting places to build and advance our children's athletic skills. However, I have to believe that there are safer solutions then hazardous waste in playgrounds and stadiums. We have already thoroughly poisoned the world that our children live in. One need only read reports on the chemical toxins currently being found within the amniotic fluid of pregnant women to understand the pervasiveness.

I hope that people think even further and more critically before we pollute the last few places our children can still safely play.

Tereza Hubkova, M.D., Lenox


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