Artificial Turf May Be Linked To Cancer

Artificial Turf May Be Linked To Cancer

School athletic fields as well as professional sports stadiums across the United States have been using artificial turf since the mid-1960’s. First called Chemgrass, artificial turf quickly became known as AstroTurf after debuting at the Houston Astrodome in 1966.

In 2000 this synthetic grass design was changed to include styrene butadiene rubber. This would prove to safely absorb falls just like natural grass does. The rubber, also known by athletes as “crumb rubber”, “turf bugs” or “black dots”, is derived from recycled car tires.

According to the Synthetic Turf Council, 11,000 American sports fields are covered in styrene butadiene rubber fields. It is also used in children’s playgrounds.

Now some serious questions are being asked about this plastic, rubber mix. Overall, some feel that artificial turf may be responsible for various cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma.

Are Goalies taking the Brunt?

Soccer coach Amy Griffin can cite 38 soccer players (34 goalies) who have contracted cancer over the last ten years. She feels the “black dots” are to blame.

These pulverized rubber crumbs have tested positive for a whole host of toxic materials. Some of these have been posted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which include:

Mercury, lead, benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, arsenic, other heavy metals, and carcinogens.

Many players, especially soccer goalies, report getting these “dots” in their cuts and mucous membranes (mouth, nose, ears). Breathing in the rubber’s off gassing is also becoming a concern.

All of these pose the possibility of the body having an adverse reaction.

Griffin comments to NBC News on the continuous cancer cases she has witnessed,

“I’ve coached for 26, 27 years,” she said. “My first 15 years, I never heard anything about this. All of a sudden it seems to be a stream of kids.”

The Speculation

Artificial turf has not yet been studied enough to determine if these claims are warranted. This includes reports by the EPA stating that the chemical levels are low, posing no adverse health risk. Other studies that measured the VOC (volatile organic compounds) of these fields claim there is no proof of a health safety concern either.

Yet, many of these studies did suggest further testing which is what some private researchers have been doing.

A Norwegian study concluded that,

“Oral exposure to artificial turf would not cause increased health risk.”

While a Spanish study reported that,

“Uses of recycled rubber tires, especially those targeting play areas and other facilities for children, should be a matter of regulatory concern.”

There is also a study funded and published by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, stating,

“As the turf material degrades from weathering the lead could be released, potentially exposing young children,”

Other Concerns

Although artificial turf has minimal upkeep costs; does not require continued use of toxic fertilizing chemicals; and saves about 50,000 gallons of water per week, there are additional concerns.

These include:

  • Hazardous chemical runoff – Possible infiltration of drinkable water.
  • MRSA Infections – It is being researched that open wounds experienced on turf fields, (also known as, ‘turf burns’) had a possibly higher risk of contracting MRSA. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections.”
  • Bacteria Harboring – The plastic grass has been shown to harbor various bacterias for up to 90 days.

Parents, communities, campuses and even some professional sports organizations are beginning to address these safety issues. Hopefully more evidence can be found to determine the potential dangers.

Maybe easy fixes such as safer, more organic “black dots” can replace the current ones and better cleaning technology can sanitize these fields.