Award-winning Investigative Journalist Robert Parry (1949-2018)

Award-winning investigative journalist and founder/editor of, Robert Parry has passed away. His ground-breaking work uncovering Reagan-era dirty wars in Central America and many other illegal and immoral policies conducted by successive administrations and U.S. intelligence agencies, stands as an inspiration to all in journalists working in the public interest.

Robert had been a regular guest on our Between The Lines and Counterpoint radio shows -- and many other progressive outlets across the U.S. over four decades.

His penetrating analysis of U.S. foreign policy and international conflicts will be sorely missed, and not easily replaced. His son Nat Parry writes a tribute to his father: Robert Parry’s Legacy and the Future of Consortiumnews.

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Concern Grows Over Health Hazards Linked with Recycled Tires Used in Playgrounds and Athletic Fields

Posted Sept. 30, 2015

MP3 Interview with Gaboury Benoit, chemist and professor at the Yale School of Forestry, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


In June, a Connecticut-based group called Environment and Human Health received a grant to fund a study of the chemical compounds in ground-up rubber tires, called crumb rubber. The material is increasingly used in place of wood chips or other protective coverings in playgrounds, and as the backing for artificial turf, which is now widely used on high school, college and professional athletic fields.

The study raised grave concerns, both for the hazardous chemicals found in the rubber and other compounds that have not yet been identified. Back in 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency indicated that 37 million rubber tires had been transformed into crumb rubber for various uses, out of the 290 million scrap tires that otherwise littered the landscape or were dumped into tire ponds, attracting mosquitoes and rats. Today, according to the EPA, 80 percent of scrap tires are now repurposed, mainly as fuel in highway projects or as crumb rubber for various uses. Neither the EPA nor any state health departments have raised the alarm about crumb rubber's potential hazards.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Gaboury Benoit, a chemist and professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, who talks about the toxic materials he's found in crumb rubber and explains why he's concerned.

GABOURY BENOIT: There's concern because ground tires are being used in a number of places where a lot of people are exposed to them, and especially younger people, so, kids' playgrounds and athletic fields are getting thousands and thousands of these chopped up tires. And we know there are a lot of undesirable toxic substances that go into the manufacture of the tires and the question is, can any of those be extracted and is there a risk of the populations being exposed to them? The procedure that we used extracted close to a hundred different organic compounds, and we ourselves don't do testing of their chemical nature, but that's already been done in a number of different studies, and what we found is that a large number of them are classified either as carcinogenic or as irritants of some kind, including respiratory irritants and those are ones that can be harmful to folks with asthma. Although many of the compounds have been tested for their toxicity, many have not, surprisingly, and so on those we simply have to say we're not sure what the effects might be, but at least a large subset of them have been measured and have been shown to be either carcinogenic or irritating.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I recently saw a memo from the Environmental Protection Agency published in 2007 that was promoting recycling of tires as a positive for the environment. It actually specifically mentioned use of ground rubber, or crumb rubber, in playgrounds, playing fields and as garden mulch. Do you know if that’s still happening?

GABOURY BENOIT: As far as I know they are continuing to promote it, and they do have a serious problem on their hands because – I forget the exact numbers – but there are millions of tires which go to waste every year. I think I recently saw that something like 80 percent of them are being recycled in some way, and that may seems like a good thing until you realize that these recycled uses are not permanent, so let’s say you do put it in an athletic field. After a number of years, it physically starts to degrade and has to be removed. And all of that material is not being recycled again, it’s just being discarded. So you’re moving from discarding tires to discarding recycled tires. So you’re not really getting rid of the problem by this recycling.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Are there any warning labels on crumb rubber that’s sold for home or school use?

GABOURY BENOIT: Several of the samples that we tested, we just went to the local big box hardware/lumber yard and just bought bags of the stuff. The bags don’t have a lot of information on them except I think in some cases they sort of trumpeted the fact they were helping the environment by recycling tires, but there were no warnings whatever. That surprised me a little bit, but I have no idea what the regulations are in regard to something like that. But no, there’s no warning, nothing about exposure for children, and it’s sold as mulch and then of course there’s also a risk, depending on where you put it, that the stuff is leaching out and getting into garden crops that people may have.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Gaboury Benoit, I recently took my 3-year-old granddaughter to one of these places where kids can pretend to be doctors or policeman or farmers, and there was a box in the farmyard filled with crumb rubber, as if it was soil to plant plastic vegetables in. I spoke to the CEO there, and she said the crumb rubber is washed first, so she didn't think it was hazardous.

GABOURY BENOIT: Well, I'm not sure how they're cleaning them. I suspect they're washing them with surfactants, which will indeed remove stuff from their surface, because if you think about going out and picking up a used tire, your hands would be covered with all sorts of stuff, they'd be black, and you can get rid of that stuff because you obviously don't want your kids playing in some kind of a sandbox and come out looking like they're covered with dirt. However, that superficial dirt is only going to be there temporarily, and when you wash them you're not washing the interior of the material, and stuff can get out of it. We're not at that point yet, but we'll be doing measurements – and others have done this in the past – where we look at the gases that come off of the tire. You mentioned that they stink, and that's just our nose being able to detect some subset of the compounds that come out. And we're going to be able to identify those and quantify them. So washing is a first minimum step that you'd want to take, but ... was this actually like a sandbox where they had the stuff in there and the kids were playing in it as if it were sand or something? I've never heard of that use and that one seems especially undesirable. Generally, the stuff is stabilized a little bit, because it's either in some kind of a mat or a subsurface floor like Astroturf or simulated grass. But in this stuff, the kids are going to be playing right in it. I don't know if you know, but there's a condition called pica that a lot of kids have where they will ingest stuff that's not really food and so kids are known to eat dirt and I'm sure they're going to be eating this stuff as well. That's really terrible; I don't care if it's washed or not; I don't think people want their kids eating ground-up tires.

For more information, see "Study Led By Gaboury Benoit Looks at Chemicals in Synthetic Playing Surfaces," Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science, July 7, 2015.

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