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Artificial Turf Debate

Rep. Steve Israel Blasts Feds for Failing to Probe Synthetic Turf

A New York congressman is demanding the feds probe whether a type of synthetic turf used on thousands of kids' playing fields could cause health risks, saying that environmental officials have "whiffle-waffled" about the potential dangers.

Rep. Steve Israel of Long Island has sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency asking for a second look at the recycled material known as "tire crumb."

An ongoing NBC News investigation has revealed concerns about potential long-term health effects from the crumb rubber, and anecdotal reports of cancer among soccer players who have played regularly on the turf.

While studies have shown no connection between artificial turf and any health problems, some doctors and toxicologists believe these studies are limited and insufficient to establish conclusively that shredded rubber surfaces are safe.

Some ask whether the rubber poses risks to young children, whose bodies are still developing.

"We want to make sure that when our kids are on those fields that it is as safe as humanly possible," Israel said at a press conference.

"I'm the dad of two daughters. When my daughters went to play on the field, I wanted to know that they were safe and sound," the Democrat added.

"I expect that the EPA will use all of its resources to help determine the science of these crumb rubber fields. And the EPA has just fallen down on the job. Now, kids are going to fall down on athletic fields and playgrounds, but the EPA should not be falling down on the job."

A small EPA study in 2009 found no serious threat at four playgrounds, but the researchers said those results did not prove 11,000 other playing fields in North America were safe.

The EPA has said it does not have any plans to re-examine the risks.

"The EPA has just whiffle-waffled on this and they owe us a straight answer and they owe us that answer now," Israel said.

Another congressman, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., previously called for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is part of theDepartment of Health and Human Services, to study the issue, and cited the NBC News investigation.

An industry group, Synthetic Turf Council, has previously noted that more than 60 studies have been conducted over two decades and "the preponderance of evidence shows no negative health effects associated with crumb rubber in synthetic turf."

In response to Israel's request, the council said that a Canadian school recently tested the rubber on its field and decided it's safe to use, and an Iowa school that had expressed concerns is also moving forward with a synthetic turf field based on those results and previous studies.

The group said it has developed an information kit for schools, parks and parents about the material.

"As previously stated, the industry supports the extensive research already performed as well as any future opportunities for science based research," it said in a statement.

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