Here is the email I sent today to the Obamas via the White House webform:
President and Mrs. Obama:
You may have made this decision because you were told that this material would cushion a fall and prevent injuries.
I can appreciate your concern and your thinking. I want to tell you about another health concern about rubber mulch that may change your risk/benefit analysis about using this product where your children play.
What you were not told is that rubber mulch is not mulch at all. In fact, this material has nothing to do with earth. It is made up of shredded rubber tires. You can't throw rubber tires away in a regular land fill in most states because they are designated as either hazardous or special waste in these states. Because old tires can’t just be thrown away, the EPA has worked with the Rubber Manufacturing Association to come up with ways to shred and spread old tires. Unfortunately, when they made these plans, they did not ask questions and study what is in the tires – what makes it impossible to just throw them away – and whether or not what is in the tires might people and the environment around the area if you shred and spread them.
Here in Connecticut, where I live, state scientists are studying this material right now to determine whether chemicals in rubber infill and rubber mulch are hazardous to children's heath. Previous lab studies they did showed chemicals in the old tires were, in fact, coming from the rubber.
In New York City, for instance, a synthetic turf field containing crumb rubber infill was recently closed when tests revealed that high levels of lead were coming from the rubber infill in the Harlem field.
No level of lead is safe for children. And lead is not the only chemical of concern in this product:
According to Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI), a Connecticut advocacy and education group made up of scientists, doctors, and former public health officials, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has analyzed a sample of ground-up rubber tires and found:
Benzothiazole: Skin and eye irritation, harmful if swallowed. There is no available data on cancer, mutagenic toxicity, teratogenic toxicity, or developmental toxicity.
Butylated hydroxyanisole: Recognized carcinogen, suspected endocrine toxicant, gastrointestinal toxicant, immunotoxicant (adverse effects on the immune system), neurotoxicant (adverse effects on the nervous system), skin and sense-organ toxicant. There is no available data on cancer, mutagenic toxicity, teratogenic toxicity, or developmental toxicity.
n-hexadecane: Severe irritant based on human and animal studies. There is no available data on cancer, mutagenic toxicity, teratogenic toxicity, or developmental toxicity.
4-(t-octyl) phenol: Corrosive and destructive to mucous membranes. There is no available data on cancer, mutagenic toxicity, teratogenic toxicity, or developmental toxicity.
Zinc: There is a very large amount of zinc that is added in the manufacturing of tires and therefore there is a great deal of zinc.
Other Chemicals that are often found in rubber tires are:
Benzene: Carcinogen, Developmental Toxicant, Reproductive Toxicant
Phthalates: Suspected Developmental Toxicant, Endocrine Toxicant, Reproductive Toxicant
PAHs: Suspected Cardiovascular or Blood Toxicant, Gastrointestinal or Liver Toxicant, Reproductive Toxicant, Respiratory Toxicant
Maganese: Gastrointestinal or liver toxicants
Carbon Black: Carcinogen
Latex: Causes allergic reactions in some people
These chemicals don't belong in your garden and they don't belong anywhere near children.
I hope you will reconsider your plans to lay down rubber where your children and their friends will play and that you will keep this product out of your gardens until independent, state, and federal scientists can determine whether it constitutes a hazard to human health and the environment.
UPDATE: Dr. William Crain emailed me after he read this diary.
Dr. Crain is a professor of psychology at the City College of New York and a developmental psychologist with expertise on how rich contact with the natural world benefits children's cognitive development.
He reminded me that all PAHs found in thestudies he co-authored with Junfeng (Jim) Zhang, Ph.D., an associate dean and professor of environmental and occupational health at the UMDNJ-School of Public Health, exceed NY State safety limits are possible, probable, or known carcinogens.