Crumb Rubber - Is It on Your Radar?
In the U.S. alone, we produce over 290 million scrap tires a year. But where do these tires go? One of the main uses of recycled tires is grinding them into small, granular pieces called “crumb rubber.” Over the last decade, crumb rubber has been increasingly used as a cushioning on artificial turf fields, playgrounds and other athletic fields. According to the Synthetic Turf Council, over 12,000 fields in the U.S. contain crumb rubber. Each of these fields is made with 20,000 – 30,000 ground up tires.1
In 2015 tests of 14 artificial athletic fields that use crumb rubber as fill found dozens of chemicals, including 12 known carcinogens. Among those substances were lead, cadmium, benzene and arsenic – all known to have serious adverse health effects. The rubber also contained polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a known carcinogen.2
With this in mind, a 2015 ESPN documentary featured the potential effects of crumb rubber on young soccer players who played on artificial turf fields filled with crumb rubber. The episode featured the findings of Amy Griffin, associate head coach at the University of Washington and a goalkeeper coach for the United States under-20 women's national soccer team. Ms. Griffin highlighted significant concerns about the health of women soccer players who have played on artificial turf containing crumb rubber – particularly those who play goalkeeper.
Between 2009 and the end of 2015, Griffin collected the names of 200 local Seattle athletes who had been exposed to artificial turf fields and contracted cancer. Of these athletes, 158 were soccer players, of which 95 were goalkeepers. If there is a link between crumb rubber and cancer, the high number of soccer players and goalkeepers could be a result of longer and more intense periods of exposure.3
“According to the EPA, benzene, mercury, styrene-butadiene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and arsenic, among several other chemicals, heavy metals and carcinogens, have been found in tires. Studies have found that crumb rubber can emit gases that can be inhaled. When the material gets hot, it can increase the chances that volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and chemicals can 'off-gas,' or leach into the air."4
In February 2016 three U.S. government agencies – the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – announced that they will conduct a joint study to determine whether artificial turf fields and playgrounds that use crumb rubber are exposing children to dangerous chemicals.5
The science examining the potential for adverse health effects via exposure to crumb rubber is in its early stages and no causative link has yet been confirmed. The results of the few studies performed and Ms. Griffin’s informal findings have resulted in a growing concern that young athletes who are exposed to the carcinogenic particles found in crumb rubber may run a higher risk of contracting cancer. That is spurring more research.
So, how do we handle this as insurers and reinsurers?
One consideration is whether occurrence or claims-made policies might be more appropriate for artificial turf/crumb rubber manufacturers and contractors. Additionally, we should take a close look at the terms and conditions on a policy in conjunction with the jurisdiction. In some states, appellate courts have not upheld absolute or total pollution exclusions when a substance was not specifically listed or the circumstance was not an "environmental" event. Jurisdictions often play a large role in the type of litigation we can face, particularly when it may include a latent exposure. As a liability underwriter, understanding the long-tail exposure from this product is imperative – as is choosing the appropriate coverage form, terms and conditions.
- ESPN.com 11/24/15.
- ESPN.com 11/24/15.
- Turf Wars: How Safe Are The Fields Where We Play?, ESPN.com, 11/24/15
- Is Rubber Mulch a Safe Surface for Your Child's Playground? nbcnews.com 12/3/14.
- Three U.S. agencies to study safety of artificial turf fields., Reuters, 2/12/16.