Schools, child-care providers, parks and playgrounds should follow the Kentucky environmental agency's lead and hold off on building new crumb rubber surfaces until more is known about their health effects.
Recycling scrap tires is an alternative to filling up landfills or illegally dumping tires that fill with water and become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
But, as Kentucky decided earlier this year, "out of an abundance of caution," it's safer to recycle old tires into asphalt and other uses that don't come into direct contact with kids until science provides more reassuring answers.
Too many doubts have been raised about potential harm from crumb rubber, which is made by grinding material from old tires into granules that serve as filler in playgrounds and artificial turf sports fields around the country.
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Herald-Leader reporter Mark Maloney on Sunday chronicled Kentucky soccer player McKenzie Hicks, whose history with cancer mirrors that of others.
NBC reported last year that a University of Washington coach grew concerned after several young soccer players were diagnosed with cancer. She compiled a list of 38 American soccer players who have been diagnosed with cancer, usually blood cancers such as lymphoma. Of those, 34 were goalkeepers who are on the turf more than other players because they repeatedly dive to block shots.
Hicks, who will graduate from Morehead State University this month, was twice diagnosed with lymphoma while in college and recovered, most recently after a bone marrow transplant from her twin sister Molly, who did not play soccer and has not had cancer.
Crumb rubber began being used in artificial turf in the 1990s. All of Lexington's public high schools and Lexington Catholic have artificial turf fields. All have crumb rubber except Lafayette, where finely granulated sand serves as filler.
It's also popular on playgrounds for young children.
No studies have linked crumb rubber and cancer. We do know that tire crumbs contain varying concentrations of carcinogens and neurotoxins, including benzene, arsenic and lead.
In January, Kentucky's Division of Waste Management announced that it would no longer make grants from its crumb-rubber program for playgrounds, school yards and athletic fields.
Instead the division is redirecting up to $800,000 into landscaping, assisting local governments retrieve tire piles and a pilot program to incorporate crumb rubber in road maintenance.
Tire buyers in Kentucky pay a fee that helps dispose of 4 million tires a year.
Citing national and local concerns, Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peters said that redirecting the grants was "the prudent step to take while more studies are conducted to determine with a greater degree of certainty if the materials used to supplement play areas and athletic fields could be considered harmful, especially to our school children."
While there may not be enough evidence to justify replacing crumb rubber sports fields and playgrounds, it makes sense not to build any new ones until the science catches up with the questions.