STOW - Foam blocks in your local gymnastics gym could be toxic, according to the Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI) out of UMass Lowell, who is now offering grants to gyms to replace them with safer options.
"They're sprayed with a flame retardant and when you jump in the pit, the pit dust comes off of the block, we breathe it in, we get it on our skin," said Lindsey Kersten, owner of Donoma Gymnastics in Stow.
The flame retardant chemical is so potent, the toxins are showing up in skin and urine samples of avid gymnasts, causing serious health issues, according to TURI's deputy director Liz Harriman.
"Those retardants have health affects like endocrine disruption, which is a particular concern for children, some are associated with cancer and with other help effects like neurotoxicity," said Harriman.
So, what's the solution? New foam blocks without those fire retardant toxins. They're actually much safer for gymnasts. Harriman said the new blocks were approved by local fire officials and pose no fire risks.
"We've done a lot of studies, a lot of research and we have found it's not necessary to use the flame retardants in order to satisfy a fire safe facility," said Harriman.
The institute issued a $10,000 grant to Donoma to replace the old blocks with the new.
"We have an annual grant process for small businesses, large and community groups…we're hoping Donoma starts the trends when people go to change out their foam pit," said Harriman.
Local lawmakers are working on additional funding for the equipment, hoping to expand the program.
"Now the focus is getting more funding, more education and perhaps look to see how to streamline the process," said State Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Middlesex and Worcester).
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