By Ken Reed

There is a growing concern in the soccer community and elsewhere that today’s artificial turf fields aren’t safe and may cause certain types of cancers. The concern stems from the ubiquitous little rubber crumbs –chunks of old tires — that bounce up from the turf and lodge in open cuts and often land in open mouths and are swallowed.

The tiny black pellets have been known to contain carcinogens and a variety of chemicals. Some people believe the black pellets might be causing athletes, even very young athletes, to get sick with various cancers. Goalies may be particularly susceptible because they are constantly diving on the artificial turf and get more pellets in scrapes and cuts as well as in their mouths.

Soccer coach Amy Griffin, an assistant for the University of Washington women’s team, became suspicious of the little black crumbs and the possible link with cancer when a couple of her goalies were stricken with cancer. She proceeded to do some quick and dirty research. She put together a list of 38 American soccer players — 34 of them goalies — who have been diagnosed with cancer. That raised her suspicions and she then pressed further to see if she could find more health-related information on the artificial turf crumbs.

She discovered there isn’t any research that has directly linked artificial turf to cancer. However, some consumer and environmental advocates say the pellets haven’t been fully tested for safety. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission performed studies over five years ago. They originally deemed the materials safe but more recently called their studies “limited.” The EPA said “more testing needs to be done.”

The industry’s Synthetic Turf Council, says evidence collected so far proves artificial turf is safe. Others aren’t so sure.

“There’s a host of concerns that are being raised,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, an environmental watchdog group. PEER has lodged complaints against both agencies. “None have risen to the level of regulatory interest.”

Dr. Joel Forman, an associate professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, has looked at the rubber crumb related studies.

“None of [the studies] are long term, they rarely involve very young children and they only look for concentrations of chemicals and compare it to some sort of standard for what’s considered acceptable,” said Dr. Forman. “That doesn’t really take into account subclinical effects, long-term effects, the developing brain and developing kids.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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