Columbia Schools say crumb rubber turf fields are safe

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COLUMBIA - The safety of crumb rubber turf fields has become questioned nationwide. Lawmakers have asked multiple federal agencies to conduct studies on the substance that is made in part from recycled tires. 

Crumb rubber turf is used on playgrounds and sporting fields across the country. Former athletes and parents have voiced their concerns that the materials might contain dangerous levels of carcinogens for kids who play on the recycled rubber surfaces.  

Congress asked the EPA to look into the concerns. On the EPA's website it says, "Current information from a number of tire crumb studies does not show an elevated health risk from playing on fields with synthetic turf or tire crumbs. However, these studies do not comprehensively address new questions and concerns about children's health risks from exposure to crumb rubber." 

It goes on to say that the EPA encourages more studies to be done to evaluate the safety of the turf, and that the agency is working along side California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to provide a more complete assessment of the materials. 

In Columbia, all three public high schools have crumb rubber turf football fields, and Hickman's baseball field is turf as well. 

The KOMU 8 News investigative team reached out to CPS officials to see if there are concerns about the safety of the fields. 

Bruce Whitesides, the CPS athletic director, said the fields are safe and the district did their homework before putting them in. 

He cited a study from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment that stated the exposure levels were well below dangerous levels. 

"We are not cavalierly putting our students at risk with anything that's unsafe," Whitesides said. "We feel very comfortable about the findings and that we keep our kids safe while they are participating on our activity fields."

He went on and said he believes turf fields have a lot of benefits over grass fields. 

"It's playable, it's always consistent in its play," Whitesides said. "There's no other uneven wear and tear that may cause indirect injuries, i.e. ankle injuries or knee injuries of that effect." 

He said the maintenance on the turf fields is easier than a typical grass field, and with the amount of students on the field on a daily-basis, he believes it is the districts best option. 

Soccer teams, football teams, bands and various other activities participate on the fields. That large amount of use would tear up grass fields, especially in incliment weather. With turf, the district is able to fill in divets and holes immediately with extra rubber that is kept near the fields. 

Whitesides said the turf also provides extra cushion, especially in really cold temperatures when grass fields harden.

Liz Rettke is a mother of children who play on the fields. She agrees with Whitesides that the consistency of turf is a benefit.

She also said based on the studies currently available, she sees no problem with her kids playing on turf.

"If you really average out the number of hours they spend on the field, it's probably not that many," Rettke said. "And there's also a lot of other places we can get those carcinogens. Unless more science comes out that shows 'yes, there is a significant health risk,' then I think the benefits of them playing sports outweigh the risks."

Other parents I spoke with agreed with Rettke that turf provides some safety features that grass does not.

KOMU 8 News also contacted other school districts in mid-Missouri to see what surface their fields are. A map representing that is below.