Carcinogenic High School Sports Fields

Belingham School District is installing Crumb Rubber artificial turf fields for high school football and soccer. Made with old car tires. They appear to cause cancer in kids.

Belingham School District is installing Crumb Rubber artificial turf fields for high school football and soccer. Made with old car tires. They appear to cause cancer in kids.


Bellingham School District is making a terrible mistake.

Dr. Greg Baker, the current superintendent of the Bellingham School District, is quickly building a new artificial turf sports stadium at Bellingham High School. Squalicum High School’s new crumb rubber artificial turf field has already been installed. Sehome High School’s shredded rubber field is coming soon. The advisory committee, having been informed that shredded tires are safe, happily rubber-stamped the idea. School district employees did some research and found assurances from the tire recycling industry that their crumb rubber artificial turf is safe. The Whatcom County Health Department apparently approved crumb rubber use based on these flawed industry assurances.

Cose up of crumb rubber - the black stuff between the plastic grass.
Close-up of crumb rubber - the black stuff between the plastic grass.

Crumb rubber is a relatively new, benign-sounding name for a toxic product made of carcinogens, poisons, heavy metals and neurotoxins in the form of shredded tires. If you have ever watched a game played on artificial turf you may have noticed a cloud of black dust puff into the air every time the ball bounces on the green plastic field. This is a telltale sign of artificial turf made from shredded tires.

Natural rubber makes up only 15-20% of the volume of a tire made in the United States. The principal chemical components of synthetic rubber tires are styrene and butadiene. Styrene is a neurotoxin, and butadiene has been shown to cause leukemia and lymphoma. Then add tire black, benzene, lead, and mercury; all are known carcinogens and neurotoxins. They can cause permanent brain damage in infants, and remember, adjacent to the new Bellingham High School field is the Options school, future home of pregnant high school teens and their infants.

In 2015, a Yale University study of synthetic playing surfaces made of ground-up waste tires listed a dozen known carcinogens:

Mercaptobenzothiazole, toxic to aquatic life (think Whatcom Creek)

Dimethylanthracene, a respiratory irritant that can also cause asthma

Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, which may also damage fetuses (adjacent Options Facility)




Phenol, 4-(1,1,3,3-tetramethylbutyl)


Phthalimide, also a skin, eye and lung irritant.

Pyrene, 1-methyl

Tetratriacontane, an eye and skin irritant that can cause damage to central nervous system.

Pyrene, which is toxic to the liver and kidneys

The Huffington Post recently published an article on the dangers of artificial turf featuring Amy Griffin, an associate head coach for the University of Washington women’s soccer team, and a goalkeeper for the U.S. National team, winners of the first Women’s World Cup in 1991. Griffin has been informally tracking American soccer players with cancer since 2009 when she noticed that a “stream of kids” who had played soccer on artificial fields had been getting sick. Griffin told NBC in 2014 that she’d heard from 38 soccer players who’d been diagnosed with cancer. That tally has climbed to 220 athletes — 166 of them soccer players. The number continues to grow as more cancer victims read about the connection to artificial turf fields.

One “advantage” to the Bellingham School District in choosing to use crumb rubber artificial turf is cost. The artificial turf field for BHS was $1.75 million. In 2013, voters approved “turf” for the three high schools as part of a $140 million school levy. For the three high school sites, multiply $1.75 million times three for an estimated total cost of $5.25 million. With interest, figure another 50%, so call it $8 million. Now add lights, a public address system, and bleachers, and the school district has three sports fields…with known cancer-causing toxins.

Crumb Rubber pieces from Squalicum HS field
Crumb Rubber Pieces from Squalicum HS field

Now is the time to step in and halt this plan that will expose our children to known health risks. Re-turfing the fields with natural grass fields is simple and relatively cheap. Real grass fields are safe, and with improved drainage and reasonable usage they will serve us better than new toxic turf.

Call your School Board today and demand they halt the toxic artificial turf. Encourage them to choose safe, natural, grass fields as the safest alternative for our kids. Especially given the growing evidence of cancer risk from crumb rubber fields.

Contact information: Bellingham School Board

Douglas Benjamin, School Board President

Phone: 202-6150

Kelly Bashaw, School Board Vice President

Phone: 220-4006

Camille Diaz Hackler, School Board Director

Phone: 441-1808

Quenby M. Peterson, School Board Director

Phone: 306-2321

Steven Smith, School Board Director

Phone: 393-1518

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About Tim Paxton

Citizen Journalist • Member since Apr 11, 2016

Tim Paxton is a long time resident of Bellingham and a long time trouble maker to government bureaucrats.

Comments by Readers

Gaythia Weis

Jul 12, 2017

Re: Artificial Turf using crumb rubber from recycled tires:

The Federal government is only just beginning to look into this:

(or maybe not, if current EPA Federal budget cuts go through).
 I can’t find a research publication related to the Yale University study described above.  This is apparently the work of Gaboury Benoit, Yale Professor of Environmental Chemistry and Engineering as described here:
What I can’t determine is if the substances listed above are directly accessible (and available to be toxic)  when the material is inhaled or ingested.  One could analyze such things as plant materials for example and find a wide variety of chemicals, some of which could be harmful in the wrong contexts.  What would matter is whether or not the chemicals were released when humans come in contact with them or they are inhaled or ingested.  This seems to be from 2015.

Research at Yale seems to be ongoing:

I would assume that publication is likely to be in progress. 

I also found a report done by Environment and Human Health, Inc, a non-profit organization that states that it is composed of doctors, public health professionals and policy experts dedicated to protecting human health from environmental harms.  Their study was  apparently done in conjuction with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station to examine whether the rubber tire “crumbs” out-gassed harmful chemicals into the air or were capable of leaching into ground water.  If the “crumbs” did either of those to things it would heighten concerns that human exposures by inhalation or ingestion could be harmful.  One of the limitations of toxicology studies are the ethical boundaries under which we don’t experiment on humans.
A summary of that report is given in the press release here:
The full report can be accessed here:
Their findings are given in the links above.  This work is from 2007.
I would concur with the conclusions of EHHI:
David Brown, Sc.D., EHHI’s public health toxicologist, said, “It is clear the recycled rubber crumbs are not inert, nor is a high temperature or severe solvent extraction needed to release metals, volatile organic compounds or semi-volatile organic compounds. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station study conclusively demonstrates that the tire crumbs and tire mulch release chemical compounds into the air and ground water.  Thus, tire crumbs constitute a chemical exposure for humans and the environment.”
Nancy Alderman, president of EHHI, said, “There is enough information now concerning the potential health effects from chemicals emanating from rubber tire crumbs to place a moratorium on installing any new fields or playgrounds that use ground-up rubber tires until additional research is undertaken.”
“Exposures to already installed synthetic turf fields that contain rubber tire crumbs should be limited, pending the development of more definitive information.”
This seems to me be a classic example of the problems that arise when developments in the US  rush ahead and  any finding of harm comes only after the fact.  We ought to have a system starting from a premise of first do no harm.  Also, this seems to demonstrate how our problems for funding of much needed  environmental research didn’t start right now with the Trump administration, but is rather an ongoing and now potentially drastically escalating issue.  Really, we ought to have proven the safety before getting to this point.

Gaythia Weis

Jul 12, 2017

The problem with the Amy Griffin related cancer data is that this is in the corrlation does not prove causation format.  There is some subsequent information online indicating that groupings of athletes including these cancer victims actually has less cancer overall than the general population.  That itself is biased, of course, because cancer victims may be less likely to be athletes.  Again, more data is needed.  IMHO, the EHHI work seemed to be the most scientifically definitive at this point in time.


Tim Paxton

Jul 13, 2017

Most parents subscribe to the precautionary principle, for everyone’s children.  If we know that tires are made up of toxic chemicals.  It does not follow that shredding them and putting children in close contact to get these shredded tire particles into lungs, stomachs, skin is a good idea.   

Anyone who defends placing children in a situation where they can actually more efficiently die from toxic exposure an organized sport, should perhaps go visit some cancer stricken young atheletes and ask them what they think of a pending study showing how safe this idea is.



Tim Paxton

Jul 14, 2017

Update Friday night at 9pm.  Construction equipment is working frantically in near dark at BHS  to get the  shredded toxic tires spread ASAP.    They had bond approval in 2013. 

But not approval for carcinogenic toxins spread in direct violation of Washington’s Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) which covers “Product” (recycled tires) that leach toxins into State Waters.   This is how the Bellingham School District cares for children.  Do it’s dirty work faster. 


Tim Paxton

Jul 15, 2017

Update July 15  - 7 AM Saturday Morning.  The School District has rented out the BHS campus to the huge RAGNAR Relay event for the weekend.  Hundreds of people will be milling about all day.

Right next to the tents, paviliions, porta pottis, relay finishs, etc.   The construction equipment is busy busy scraping away on what was a lovely summer Saturday morning.  Tractors scraping gravel at 7am?   Really Greg Baker?

It appears that the School District needs to race ahead to finish dumping their toxic and flammable tire  waste, as if that will solve the problem.  

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