Capitol Alert

AM Alert: California studying health risks of ‘crumb rubber’ synthetic turf

Mike Huntsaker holds processed crumb rubber from his West Sacramento company Tri-C Machine Corp, the biggest tire shredder in Northern California, on Feb. 17, 2011.
Mike Huntsaker holds processed crumb rubber from his West Sacramento company Tri-C Machine Corp, the biggest tire shredder in Northern California, on Feb. 17, 2011. The Sacramento Bee file

“Crumb rubber” made from recycled tires is a popular synthetic turf – especially in California, which gives out millions of dollars in grants each year, paid for by a fee on new tire purchases, to schools and cities that want to install playgrounds and fields made from the material.

Health and environmental groups are increasingly calling into the question the safety of crumb rubber, however, which has been shown to contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals. Previous studies have not found any significant health hazards from respiration or skin contact, but the debate has shifted to the risks of ingesting the tiny pieces of tire. Soccer goalies who dive and slide around crumb rubber fields are of particular concern.

After a state Senate bill this session, which would have stopped the turf subsidies while the state studied the health effects of crumb rubber, stalled in the appropriations committee amid intense lobbying, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment announced that it would conduct a study anyway. The $2.9-million investigation will be paid for from the same tire purchase fee as the subsidies.

The agency is now conducting a series of public workshops throughout the state to determine the scope of the study, the first of which takes place today at 6 p.m. at Berkeley High School.

LEON THE RECORD: His storied career has taken him from the House of Representatives to chief of staff for President Bill Clinton to CIA director and Secretary of Defense under President Barack Obama. He was a Republican before he was a Democrat. So Leon Panetta has probably just about seen it all. What does the Monterey native think are the critical issues now facing California and the nation? He joins Public Policy Institute of California President Mark Baldasarre for a conversation, 6 p.m. at PPIC’s Bechtel Conference Center in San Francisco. The event will also be webcast.

ENERGIZER JERRY: Another politician with a storied career speaking in San Francisco today? Gov. Jerry Brown, who will participate in a panel on the changing “energy equation” at the Fortune Global Forum, 4:15 p.m. at the Fairmont San Francisco Hotel.

GOLDEN ACHIEVEMENT: Did you miss the California Hall of Fame ceremony last Wednesday while you were watching the Republican presidential debate? The Bee was on the red carpet chatting with inductees about how the state helped shape their careers (except actor Robert Downey Jr., who ignored media questions). “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt credited California’s diversity, while British atist David Hockney found inspiration in the space and the sex. Figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi also reflected on life after Olympic gold, and astronaut Ellen Ochoa shared her secret to working in space.

CELEBRATIONS: A belated happy birthday to Rep. Darrell Issa R-Vista, who turned 62 yesterday.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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