Letter to Board of Education of Montgomery County on Synthetic Playgrounds

April 23, 2018

Dear Board of Education members,

As a long-time resident of Montgomery County and as president of the National Center for Health Research, I am shocked by the misinformation I have seen circulating about all types of artificial turf and rubber playgrounds in Montgomery County.

The recent plan to use Zeolite indicates a dangerous lack of understanding of the need for safety testing before using materials that our children will be exposed to day after day.  Zeolite is a mined volcanic mineral.  Its use in artificial turf has not been tested for human health,  but there is every reason to be concerned that inhaling the dust from Zeolite could cause lung damage, similar to the damage from asbestos.

In addition, it is my understanding that synthetic rubber play surfaces are now being proposed for MCPS outdoor play spaces.  These “poured in place” and other types of rubber playground surfaces have many of the same risks as tire crumb and other rubber infill that the County Council realized were too dangerous to use in 2015.  These rubber playgrounds look very attractive and feel good when they are new, but you can’t see the chemicals that are in them.  As a result, these synthetic rubber playgrounds (like artificial turf playing fields) are often over 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit 50-60 degrees on a sunny day – even on days when the air temperature is only 60 degrees!.  In addition, the rubber (which is made from petroleum and other products) release toxins that can cause cancer and also contribute to early puberty, obesity, attention deficit disorder, asthma, and rashes.  The playground surfaces also start to tear, and very small pieces of colorful materials are very tempting for young children to eat because they look like candy.

Please stop these dangerous installations from going forward.

As president of the National Center for Health Research, I testified about the risks of these materials at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission this past week, and have previously testified before the Maryland House of Delegates Appropriations Committee  and the D.C. City Council.  I am sorry to say that I have repeatedly seen and heard scientists from the turf industry and other turf industry lobbyists say things that are absolutely false.  They claim that these products are proven safe (not true) and that federal agencies have stated there are no health risks (also not true).  They also give misleading assurances such as “there is no evidence of a child getting cancer from these products.” The problem with that type of statement is that it is virtually impossible to prove that a chemical exposure causes one specific individual to develop cancer.  What we do know is that many of the materials being used contain carcinogens, and when children are exposed to those carcinogens day after day, week after week, and year after year, they increase the chances of our children developing cancer, either now or as they get older.  That should be adequate reason to not install them in Montgomery County.  Add to that the short-term risk of asthma, obesity, attention problems, and early puberty, and it is time  for the County to educate its opinion leaders and stop spending millions of dollars on fields and playgrounds that are less safe and more expensive than well designed natural grass fields and ADA-compliant engineered wood fiber.

For more information, please read our user-friendly footnoted summary at https://www.center4research.org/children-athletes-play-toxic-turf-playgrounds/


Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D.
National Center for Health Research