Turf Wars

Since reports have come out allegedly linking synthetic turf surfaces to toxic substances the industry has begun to fight back, hiring lobbyists to help brief those on the Hill about synthetic turf and its safety. According to The Hill, multiple reports have “found a number of young athletes who contracted cancer that they and some environmental advocates say is linked to the rubber infill, which is frequently made from recycled vehicle tires.” These reports drew the attention of the House Energy and Commerce Committee leading Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) to write to the EPA in October asking the agency to “evaluate where its scientific work stands in terms of turf infill, and asking whether the EPA’s last study on the matter, finished in 2009, needs updating.”

This issue is of serious concern as The Hill reports there are “more than 12,000 athletic fields use turf in North America, including at high schools, colleges, municipal parks and the stadiums of 13 NFL teams, according to the industry group.” In December the Thomas Burke, the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the EPA responded to Chairman’s Upton’s questions writing, “We have information from a number of limited studies and they do not shoe an elevated health risk from playing on fields with synthetic turf containing tire crumb. However, the studies have various limitations and do not comprehensively address concerns about children’s health risks from exposures to tire crumb.”  Nevertheless, NBC reports other toxicologists such as Dr. Laura Green are more confident in the safety of the tire crumbs saying, “It’s always been true that a carcinogenic gas has been used to make tires, but it’s never been true, never, that once tires are made, once they are in use, and once they are crumb balled that they liberate that or any other carcinogen…There’s zero reason to be concerned that playing on synthetic turf will put your child at risk for cancer,” she added. “It’s simply not true.”

Commenting on the Synthetic Turf Council’s retention of a lobbying firm, Al Garver, President of the Council said, “We utilized Clark Hill in October and November to advise us on the best way to brief key offices on the Hill to ensure they had the most current studies available on crumb rubber infill and to let them know that the industry was available to help in any way it could to support further studies,” according to The Hill.

The lobbying battle over synthetic turf has not just been restricted to the federal level. NBC reports, “Terry Leveille, president of the California-based lobbying firm TL & Associates, helped defeat [California State Sen. Jerry] Hill’s bill in Sacramento. It never got out of committee. At a scrap recycling conference this year, Leveille told industry representatives that he and the Synthetic Turf Council, an industry group, had also lobbied successfully against legislation in Virginia, and deflected a Minnesota bill with “a promise to fund a new $50,000 study.”

LobbyBlog will continue to monitor this issue and report the latest lobbying news.

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