Not that he was feeling sorry for himself, but it was easy to tell that John Ripp was a bit discouraged.
“Every once in awhile we need to be reminded that we’re doing some good in this industry, but it has been hard to do that the last few weeks,” Ripp said.
Ripp is an account executive for Pittsburgh-based Liberty Tire Recycling. He made the above statement at the American Sports Builders Association’s annual Technical Meeting in December during his presentation on “Crumb Rubber in Athletic Fields.” The big pink elephant in the room during Ripp’s presentation was the recent national news speculating a possible link between crumb rubber in athletic fields and cancer.
When Ripp was introduced, he addressed the issue immediately. He knew he couldn’t look the other way because news coverage on the subject had been pretty intense.
If you Google “synthetic turf and cancer,” you’ll find a litany of stories on the subject from the last few months. A story by “NBC News” in early October is the reason for the many subsequent stories, which dominated national and local news last fall.
Initially, “NBC News” reported that Amy Griffin, the associate head coach for the University of Washington’s women’s soccer team, discovered in 2009 that four young women from the Seattle community who played soccer goalie – all who played on synthetic turf – had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. After further research, Griffin learned of 38 American soccer players – 34 of them goalies – who were diagnosed with cancer. She and others, including a few cancer-stricken players, wonder if the crumb rubber infill could be poisoning players because it allegedly contains carcinogens and chemicals.
“It’s easy to throw mud at us, but there’s no data [to support the claims],” he said.
Ripp also thought it was vital to point out that companies like Liberty Tire Recycling are green companies, doing some good for the health of the environment. He noted that in 1990 there were 1 billion tires in stockpiles, and in 2013 that number dwindled to 75 million.
“It’s impressive the work we’re doing to help reduce the stockpiles,” he added.
During the question period after his talk, I asked Ripp if the negative news had affected Liberty Tire’s business. He said he had heard that some of the company’s customers were “pulling back.”
“We just have to run the course,” Ripp added.
I’ve seen this movie before. A major news outlet gets hold of what it terms a “big story,” and the rest of the media picks it up and runs with it like sprinter Usain Bolt.
NBC did report in its story that there’s no research linking crumb rubber exposure to cancer. In fact, the story was well balanced. But once a report like this makes it into cyberspace – where bloggers and Tweeters feel obliged to express their views – the report can get twisted.
Before you know it, people are commenting that crumb rubber in synthetic turf does cause cancer. Before you know it, orders for synthetic fields with crumb rubber are canceled or postponed. Before you know it, businesses are hurt, which can lead to lost jobs and livelihoods.
It’s not fair, and such talk must be contained. And, as Ripp pointed out, the sports field industry, especially those in the synthetic field and crumb rubber segments, needs to be on the same page to defend itself.
Taking it a step further, the sports field industry should welcome additional testing on crumb rubber if it’s needed to further prove Ripp’s point. While many tests have already been done to certify its safety, if there’s a better test to be had, why not try it?