Tire crumb – dangerous or safe for your kids?

KVUE News Austin
By Christy Millweard
Original story here


CENTRAL TEXAS – We’re days away from learning if a rubber material used on playgrounds and athletic fields are safe for children. Three federal agencies are researching the health risks of rubber tire crumb. Their research began in early 2016, and they’re expected to release a report soon.

The work began as a solution to a problem; old tires can’t go in landfills because they are not biodegradable. So, companies began shredding them and putting them on playgrounds and artificial fields to prevent injury.

Zac Trahan and Virginia Fugman say they take their 1-year-old son Dario to explore the park.

“We go outside every day,” said Fugman.

But Trahan and Fugman say they’re are concerned about the dangers of rubber crumb used to pad their son’s fall at some parks.

“There’s no way I’m going to take him to a playscape or playground that has rubber just because I don’t know,” said Fugman.

It’s the same worries parents across the country have about the rubber crumb used in synthetic turf fields under the Friday night lights. Nancy Alderman, the president of Environment and Human Health Inc., a nonprofit based in Connecticut, said their group of physicians, toxicologists, and public health professionals has been researching tire crumbs for nine years.

“The reason we researched it is because nobody else was, and because we felt there was an inherent danger,” said Alderman.

A Yale University analysis, commissioned by EHHI, found 11 carcinogens, or cancer-causing substances, and 20 irritants in a small rubber crumb sample. The findings present a potential danger for students athletes who come in close contact with it.

“These crumb rubber are small enough they get into ears, eyes, nose, mouths, clothes, they get into people houses on their clothes, they get into the washing machines,” said Alderman. “Why would anybody want to put our children on any surface that have known carcinogens on it, why do we do this?”

Currently, three federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency, Consumer Product Safety Commission and Center for Disease Control and Prevention, are studying the issue. They’re looking at 40 fields and nine tire crumb manufacturing plants across the country to determine if there are potential health risks in the material. A spokeswoman for the EPA says almost 50 federal employees are working on the project and it’s estimated to cost about $2 million dollars.

But people like Trahan, who is also the program director at Texas Campaign for the Environment, are asking why the government didn’t do their study before tire crumbs were used on playgrounds and turf soccer fields.

“Only after evidence starts coming to light that it may be dangerous do we actually study it to see if it’s safe, it doesn’t make any sense at all,” said Trahan. “If it turns out the study shows that this stuff is completely 100 percent safe, then you can start using it again, but why have it there in the meantime.”

The Recycled Rubber Council sent KVUE the following statement:

“The recycled rubber industry is committed to transparency and welcomes all additional scientific-based testing and collaboration to ensure the safety of children who play on our products. While we encourage decision-makers to look at the body of research that has already been done, we’re fully supportive of the current multi-agency effort to examine the claims regarding potential risks associated with playing on artificial turf fields and playgrounds with recycled rubber infill.

We strongly reaffirm, however, that based on dozens of reports, including peer-reviewed academic studies and federal and state government analyses—recycled rubber has no link to any health issues. The product in media reports is the same recycled rubber used in a variety of products that are widely considered to be safe, such as sneakers, garden hoses, hospital floors, surgical gloves, and an array of other uses.

In an ideal world the federal government’s involvement, which we encouraged for years, would settle this matter once and for all, put parents’ minds at ease, and validate past and recent due diligence by public officials. At the same time, we have some concern that because of the way the study is currently designed, it may not provide the level of closure to the issue that the public is seeking.

First, the EPA stated the study will not investigate natural grass fields, which would provide critical context given the EPA’s note that metals of concern within fields containing recycled rubber are likely to be present in natural grass fields, too. Secondly, the EPA will not be testing a control group by looking at the grass and soil adjacent to synthetic turf fields being studied to see if any possible contamination derives instead from environmental factors.

When the findings of this study are reported, it would be misleading to report the existence of chemicals without including this necessary context. The EPA has acknowledged a desire to investigate each ofthese, but cited time and resource constraints. We hope to see this revisited, as such context lends to sound science and sensible policies to instill the confidence policymakers sought with this study.”


Here in Central Texas, you can find pieces of the rubber at Fuentes Elementary in Kyle. Tim Savoy with Hays CISD said the district tried it out on 5 playgrounds in 2010 in order to go green.

“It has great properties in terms of being safe when a kid falls because it’s very cushy; it will stop a fall,” said Savoy.

But, they’re now phasing the rubber crumb out.

“We just made the decision that it’s not the material that we want to use,” said Savoy.

He said the main reason is because the pieces blow away, and it’s hard to maintain. But he also said they want to be proactive, in case the research finds health risks in the rubber.

“You start seeing the concerns that are raised, is it harmful, are there chemicals in those tires that are not good for children,” said Savoy.

The change will cost about $6,000 dollars, but Savoy said it’s well worth it.

“For the peace of mind, that’s worth the price,” said Savoy.

We talked to several other school districts in Central Texas who say they use a virgin rubber mix on their fields and playgrounds. A spokeswoman with Hellas Construction based in Austin said that mix is made of new rubber, not old tires. In 2013, Frank Petrini with Hellas Construction said they also created an alternative.

“There’s cork in it, and the cork allows for a bit more cushioning,” said Petrini.

Petrini said the Geo Plus infill, made of coconut and cork, is an organic alternative that helps keep fields 40 degrees cooler than the rubber fill.

“The biggest complaints of artificial turf is that they’re super-hot,” said Petrini.

While the company does still install rubber, Petrini said the organic option has taken off. For 2016, he said the organic mix will be more than 20 percent of their sales, 3 years ago it was less than 5 percent.

“You don’t get rubber splashed everywhere, in your uniforms, in your car, at your house, it’s a much more natural type product so it feels like natural grass,” said Petrini.

But he said they’re not convinced the rubber is harmful.

“There’s multiple tests done on rubber, it’s always been inconclusive, as far as health standards on it,” said Petrini.

Until the federal study is complete, Trahan and Fugman feel it’s up to parents.

“It’s definitely going to impact where we go in the future,” said Fugman.

A decision that may impact the future of their son.

KVUE talked to several school districts in Central Texas to find out which products schools are using. So far we’ve counted 34 fields that use a rubber infill, either the cut up tires, or the clean rubber mix. Mike Kelly, the Managing engineer for the City of Austin says they have regulations to make sure products like these tire crumb pieces don’t get into the water stream.

What a Trump win might mean for Texas’ environment

San Antonio Express-News
By Brendan Gibbons
Original article here

Depending on one’s point of view, Donald Trump’s election as president can be seen as either a chance to pull back on federal regulatory overreach or to undo any recent progress made on the environment.

Experts on both sides say climate change, energy, the Environmental Protection Agency’s relationship with the states, endangered species and land use are some of the most important environmental issues that Trump’s leadership will alter. That could be especially true in Texas.

Still, nobody knows exactly what Trump will do. Compared with immigration and health care, the environment received little attention from either side in the presidential campaign. Trump also has made conflicting statements about his plans for the EPA.

Trump’s pick of transition advisers and possible future Cabinet members offers some clues. He appointed two climate change skeptics: Myron Ebell to head his EPA transition team and a North Dakota Republican congressman, Kevin Cramer, as an energy adviser. Trump is reportedly considering oil executive Forrest Lucas for interior secretary, which would put him in control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and other federal agencies with vast land holdings. Other potential picks include Oklahoma oil tycoon Harold Hamm for energy secretary.

As for Trump’s policies, environmentalists and business and energy advocates in Texas and elsewhere are looking to his transition website, along with his Twitter account and a few public statements, for clues.

Climate and Energy

Most everyone agrees that the Obama administration’s policies to address climate change, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, are doomed. Trump has vowed to “cancel” the Paris climate agreement and “scrap” the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever attempt to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the highest-emitting sector in the U.S.

That’s good news for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton’s office joined 24 states in a lawsuit challenging the plan, and the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay in February.

Texas generates more electricity and produces more greenhouse gas emissions from power plants than any other state and is the only one to operate its own electrical grid. Texas also ranks No. 1 in wind power and No. 10 in solar.

The Clean Power Plan would have required Texas to cut its emissions to 33 percent of 2012 levels by 2030 but would have allowed the state to decide for itself how to do so. As of July, Texas generated 51 percent of its electricity from natural gas, 29 percent from coal, 12 percent from renewable sources and 8 percent from nuclear power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. If that mix changes, federal mandates will not be the cause.

Texas’ challenge to the Clean Power Plan will still be underway when Trump takes office, and his administration has several options to change the rules or settle with Texas and the other states, said Scott Segal, head of the policy group at Bracewell, an international law firm that advises San Antonio-based oil refiners Valero Energy and Tesoro.

Besides the Clean Power Plan, Texas has seven other pending lawsuits against the federal government over air regulations covering oil field methane emissions, particulates, sulfur dioxide and more. For Texas’ top Republican officeholders, including Abbott, that litigation has been key to keeping the Obama administration in check.

“For the first time since 2008, we won’t have a White House that we have to constantly sue to protect the rights of Texans,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement after Trump’s election.

Under Trump, the EPA will “settle in Texas’ favor if they can,” said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, who for five years served as director of the EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement. “I’m hoping they don’t do that every single time on every single issue. That would be foolish if they did because obviously they’ll be setting up for a backlash.”

Robin Schneider, director of Texas Campaign for the Environment, also has little hope for Obama’s fossil-fuel regulations but did not think it would spell the end for renewable energy sources. “The thing is, the momentum for clean energy, for wind and solar, is very strong already,” she said.

Trade groups that represent Texas power producers offered little insight into their thinking about Trump’s administration. The Association of Electric Companies of Texas, which represents generators dominated both by renewable sources and fossil fuels, declined to comment.

Lindsey Hughes, director of Texas Competitive Power Advocates, said in an email that the group will support “a market that brings investment in clean and diversified energy resources to provide ample, reliable and affordable electricity choices for Texas consumers.” She did not mention Trump.

EPA Enforcement

Trump’s team mentions the EPA briefly on its transition website, saying it “will refocus the EPA on its core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans.”

It included one specific measure: The president-elect said he would “eliminate” the “highly invasive” Waters of the U.S. rule. That’s shorthand for a rule that said that the Clean Water Act applies to wetlands and ephemeral streams that are headwaters for larger tributaries and rivers. The EPA framed it as clarifying the law, while opponents considered it an overreach.

Schaeffer, whose group often sues the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality over the issue of weak enforcement of environmental laws, thinks Obama’s EPA was already fairly soft on the TCEQ. Texans should now expect even less from the EPA and must take matters into their own hands, he said.

“If you’re living downwind or downriver from polluters, you’re less able to depend on some kind of backstop from EPA,” he said. “You’re going to need to start taking your own agency on and holding them accountable.”

There may be one place for common ground. Trump has proposed a $550 billion investment in the country’s infrastructure, though he has not explained how it would be funded. That could include some money to upgrade the nation’s drinking water systems.

Endangered Species

Trump and his advisers have said next to nothing about endangered species, except for one reference on the transition site to protecting habitat. This is an environmental fight that often plays out in Texas. Recent battles have been waged over the lesser prairie chicken, the dunes sagebrush lizard and the golden-cheeked warbler, whose habitats often overlap with land coveted by oil and gas companies or developers.

With Republicans controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, Robert Henneke, general counsel for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank, said he was hopeful for what he said is a needed reform of the Endangered Species Act. His group joined a petition last year to take the golden-cheeked warbler off the endangered species list.

“The purpose of the Endangered Species Act needs to be restored to protecting endangered and threatened species and not land control and encumbrance of private property,” he said, adding that the federal government should still have a role for migratory species that cross state boundaries.

The day after the election, Center for Biological Diversity Director Kierán Suckling called Trump’s win a “disaster.” The environmental group has fought for protection of several Texas species, including the dunes sagebrush lizard, a species of mussel native to the Rio Grande, endangered salamanders and the warbler.

“Trump’s vision is dark. Dangerous,” Suckling said in the statement, adding that his organization will “regroup, re-energize and carry on the good fight to save life on Earth.”

Use of Federal Land

One issue that has environmentalists reeling may be less of a concern in Texas: opening up federal lands for energy development. Unlike most of the West, Texas has few federal lands outside of Big Bend National Park, some U.S. Forest Service land in East Texas, North Texas and the Panhandle, and a smattering of wildlife refuges along the Gulf Coast.

Trump’s transition page calls for “opening onshore and offshore (energy) leasing on federal lands and waters.” It vows to repeal a moratorium on federal coal mining leasing while “ensuring proper stewardship of our National Parks’ crown jewels.”

“To the extent that the limited federal lands in Texas would be productive economically,” Henneke said, “then they should be developed with the same types of environmental safeguards that have always existed.”

On the other side, Schneider said any extreme ideas such as privatizing national parks “will ignite a firestorm.”

With Republicans set to control the White House and Congress, perhaps environmentalists across the country can learn a thing or two from those working in Texas.

“We’ve been dealing with people in power in both houses of the Legislature, in the Governor’s Mansion, in the lieutenant governor’s chair and at the Texas Supreme Court,” Schneider said. “Very few of these people get elected on a pro-environment platform.”

She said groups such as hers succeed in this state by finding unlikely allies. Canvassing door to door has taught her that many Republicans and conservatives support certain conservation measures.

“We learned how to talk to people across the political spectrum,” she said. “Not that we always win by a long shot, but we have been very successful on a lot of fronts.”

Will the Railroad Commission ever be accurately named?

Texas Observer
By Naveena Sadasivam
Original article here

Though the Railroad Commission of Texas hasn’t overseen trains for more than three decades, some members of the Legislature and the oil and gas lobby continue to fight to keep the agency’s misleading name. And in the 2017 session they’re likely to win.

Scott Towery/flickr/creative commons
Scott Towery/flickr/creative commons

On Thursday morning, the Sunset Commission — a 12-member board of legislators and public members that reviews state agencies’ operations — nixed a recommendation to change the Railroad Commission’s name to one that actually describes its role regulating oil and gas. In an April report, Sunset staff suggested that lawmakers rename the agency to the Texas Energy Resources Commission. But at a hearing today, the Sunset Commission members dropped the recommendation without publicly offering a reason.

The Railroad Commission’s review is its third since 2010. Previous attempts to pass reforms recommended by the Sunset Commission failed in the Legislature in part due to lawmakers squabbling over the name change. In 2013 and 2015, conservative legislators blocked bills that would’ve changed the agency’s name to the Texas Energy Commission or the Texas Oil and Gas Commission, arguing that it would be too costly and that the name has a historical significance.

Those issues have resurfaced this year. In August, Republican state Representative Dan Flynn told other Sunset Commission members at a hearing that “it doesn’t take long to figure out what [the Railroad Commission] is if you’re in the business.”

He added:“I just think it seems like we’re getting drawn into this political correctness business.”

But environmental and consumer advocates say lawmakers’ refusal to change the agency’s name is symbolic of its deep ties to the oil and gas industry. Rebranding to, say, the Texas Oil and Gas Commission would increase transparency and better reflect its responsibilities, they say. Sunset Commission staff have also recommended changing the agency’s name to the Texas Energy Resources Commission.

“It’s been a red herring in that it distracts Texans from what the agency is actually doing,” said Andrew Dobbs, Central Texas program director for Texas Campaign for the Environment. “But at the end of the day if we have a better agency under a not-so-great name, we’ll have to deal with it.”

A report published Thursday by Texans for Public Justice, Sierra Club and Public Citizen found that 60 percent of the $11 million in campaign contributions to the three elected commissioners who oversee the Railroad Commission came from the oil and gas industry. That’s the kind of money that can not only buy influence but prevent what seems like the kind of agency rebranding that should’ve happened decades ago. Changing the name might also help voters better understand its functions and choose candidates uninfluenced by the oil and gas industry, environmental groups say.

At the hearing Thursday morning, the Sunset Commission also removed recommendations to require the State Office of Administrative Hearings to take on gas utility cases and increase bond requirements so that the Railroad Commission has sufficient money to plug wells should an operator abandon it. Dobbs said the commission was likely dropping more controversial recommendations so that a bill reauthorizing the Railroad Commission for 12 years had a better chance of passing.

The commission’s recommendations will be submitted to the Legislature, which is scheduled to convene on January 10.