PHOTO COURTESY OF SEVERIJA KIRILOVAITE /ISTOCK.
If you Google “synthetic turf and cancer,” you’ll find a litany of stories on the subject from the last several weeks. The stories range from blogs and big-name news organizations, such as http://Forbes.com, which on Oct. 20 reported a blog/story with the headline, “Should Parents Worry Synthetic Turf Fields Will Give Their Children Cancer?”
A story by NBC News in early October is the reason for the many subsequent stories on synthetic turf and cancer, which have dominated national and local news. 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.
Over the next five years Griffin learned that 38 American soccer players – 34 of them goalies – had been diagnosed with cancer, with blood cancers like lymphoma and leukemia being the most popular. She and others now wonder if the crumb rubber infill, which is used to give synthetic fields more bounce and help cushion athletes when they fall, could be poisoning players because it contains carcinogens and chemicals.
Griffin suspects that there are more goalies with cancer because they have more frequent contact with the turf – and crumb rubber. As they try to prevent the ball from going into the net, they often drop down onto the turf surface and the crumb rubber may become lodged in small arm or leg wounds, or even accidentally swallowed.
In the wake of NBC’s report, there have been many local reports of the scare, including stories of schools canceling or putting off installing synthetic turf. In New Mexico, there was a report of a father who lobbied to rid the school district of artificial turf.
The Synthetic Turf Council (STC) wasted no time in responding to the NBC report with a message on its website, saying that it and the synthetic turf industry take the health, safety and welfare of synthetic turf users very seriously.
“We sympathize with those individuals who are battling a serious illness. As the industry’s trade association, it is our responsibility to address the issues raised in the NBC story in an objective manner.”
The STC stated it believes “that reliable scientific data should be the foundation of any discussion regarding the safety of synthetic turf with crumb rubber infill.”
“During the past two decades, there have been more than 60 technical studies and reports that review the health effects of crumb rubber as it pertains to toxicities from inhalation, ingestion and dermal contact, as well as cancer,” the STC said.
It was noted that these studies and reports were done over the last 22 years by independent organizations such as the Connecticut Department of Health, Hofstra University, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the University of California, Berkeley.
“The preponderance of evidence shows no negative health effects associated with crumb rubber in synthetic turf. As NBC factually reported, ‘there is no research directly linking crumb rubber exposure to cancer,’ ” the statement noted.
The statement concluded by adding that the STC supports the scientific research already performed and any future science-based research.
One can’t fault Amy Griffin for going to the media with her findings; she is only acting as a concerned citizen. We don’t doubt that the STC takes the health, safety and welfare of synthetic turf users very seriously.
But where do we go from here?
SportsField Management magazine’s Lawrence Aylward can be reached at email@example.com.