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EPA Examines Shredded Tires

Added to soil under playgrounds and playing fields, crumb rubber improves drainage and root structure of grass. Ground rubber applications accounted for 12 percent of scrap tire use in 2005. The nation's stockpiles of used tires has been cut substantially, from about one billion in 1990 to 100 million in 2007.

Based on new research that shows shredded tires may release arsenic, lead and mercury into the products they are used in, the EPA is examining the safety of using them in applications such as playground surfacing. Part of the investigation is a small-scale survey commissioned by the EPA. Its goal is to determine if children can suffer health risks from ingesting the toxic chemicals present in tires.

In addition to playground surfacing, ground rubber is used as an additive for artificial turf, and the Center for Disease Control issued an advisory for potential lead contamination from this turf just last year.

While the investigation is underway, the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is requesting that the EPA remove its endorsement of using crumb rubber in consumer products. The Rubber Manufacturers Association has responded that several studies show no health risks from using recycled rubber, and are calling this a "misinformation campaign."

Part of the toxic content is the metal component of tires, which includes everything from the rim to lead weights that maintain wheel alignment. This metal must be removed by machinery after the tire is already shred into pieces. As a result, it's not uncommon to see tire recyclers that require rims to be removed prior to recycling.

While the stockpiles are declining, Americans still generate millions of used tires each year that need to be disposed of. Demand for ground rubber rose 46 percent from 2005 to 2007. Another common way to dispose of tires is through tire-derived fuel, a way of harnessing the oil content of tires to produce energy. The average tire can contain up to five gallons of oil used as feedstock.

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December 8, 2019, 7:45 am PDT

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