The European Commission has formally made a request to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to assess whether the presence of cancer causing substances in recycled rubber granules used as infill in synthetic turf pitches poses a risk to human health.
Football’s world governing body, Fifa, have also agreed to collaborate with the investigation.
The ECHA is expected to finalise its preliminary evaluation by January 2017 and their conclusion and findings should be made public in February 2017.
If the findings show there are health issues, it will also have significant financial implications for sporting clubs and recreation grounds which use the rubber. In Ireland infill is extensively used by GAA, soccer and rugby clubs.
Dundalk’s soccer pitch, the rugby pitch in Donnybrook, which hosts Ireland under-20 international matches, and the pitch in UCD, where the Leinster rugby team trains, as well as the GAA surface in Cavan’s Breffni Park all use the infill.
The commission is following the line of the US Environmental Protection Agency, which earlier this year agreed to conduct a multi-agency investigation following public pressure and assertions from the scientific community that the rubber is hazardous.
Studies commissioned by the industry have shown the compound to be harmless, while independent studies in both the US and Europe claim the substances have potentially harmful effects.
The ECHA explained in a statement that their preliminary investigation will seek to identify any hazardous substances including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which are carcinogenic and already extensively restricted by EU legislation.
The study will also assess the risk resulting from skin, oral and inhalation exposure to the substances, which are used in both open air and indoor sports grounds.
“The results of ECHA’s preliminary evaluation are expected by January 2017 – to be published in February 2017,” said the statement. “Based on this, ECHA will discuss the possible next steps with the Commission. ECHA is collaborating with the United States authorities and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa).
‘Need to evaluate’
“In the light of the discussion during the meeting on 8 March 2016 and the input received from Member States, there is a need to evaluate the risks potentially posed to human health by the presence of certain substances obtained from end-of-life tyres, which form part of the synthetic turf used in sports grounds.
“To assist with this evaluation, the Commission will forward to the Agency all relevant studies already in its possession that were conducted by Member States. Furthermore, ECHA should take into account relevant international and regional activities in this area, such as recent research actions on recycled tyre crumb used on playing fields, launched by the US-EPA.”
The commission guidelines say risks to be evaluated should cover those of the general population as well professional athletes and those working in the industry.
Based on the ECHA conclusions, the commission will consider the risk to health and, if there are concerns of significance, will set regulations to restrict the use of the rubber.