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L.I. Congressman Calling For EPA Study Into Potential Risks Of Crumb Rubber On Playgrounds

(CBSNewYork) -  Just how safe are the playgrounds and athletic fields our children use? Some say the answers we're getting from the Environmental Protection Agency aren't good enough and now lawmakers want something done.

The tiny rubber particles cushion athletic fields and playgrounds, as well as lower maintenance costs, but are they safe to touch and inhale? Northshore University Hospital doctor Ken Spaeth says the jury is still out.

"We know that these playgrounds contain a number of very harmful chemicals," Spaeth said. "What we are not so sure about is how these might get into the body and whether they actually do pose a risk."

Tire crumbs, as they're called, come from recycled rubber like shredded tires.

Thousands of athletic fields and playgrounds use them as fill and as CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, federal standards require a safety surface.

But the EPA admits its only study back in 2009 was very limited.

Now, Congressman Steve Israel is calling for a new, comprehensive federal study.

"I appreciate the fact that we are being environmentally conscious by recycling, but the problem is these tires have known carcinogens," Israel said.

An industry leader, Field Turf, stands by its safety after multiple studies found "no negative health effects connected to synthetic turf." But because some believe "more research is needed," they told Gusoff, "we respect this and are willing to support any additional scientific studies."

"I know there have been tests done, the sampling is just too small," Darrell Wilson with Playsites + Surfaces said.

At Playsites + Surfaces on Long Island, crumbs are outsold by alternatives like encapsulated rubber.

"There is no chance of any rubber particles coming out," Wilson said.

But that can run twice the price. It all has one mother of three boys searching for a consensus.

"They're on all sorts of turf, so just want them to be as safe as possible," Jocelyn Wasserman said.

Congressman Israel said he's not sounding an alarm or suggesting people avoid playgrounds or fields, but said the EPA owes the public answers.

"The rubber actually contains dozens of carcinogens, including arsenic, benzene, cadmium and nickel and we don't know for sure whether these substances pose a health risk," Israel told 1010 WINS.

The EPA and Consumer Product Safety Commission recommend young children wash their hands after playing on synthetic surfaces.

An EPA spokesperson said, "The agency will carefully review Congressman Israel's letter."

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