By Kaleb Page
For many playing football, lacrosse, soccer, or even field hockey it meant playing on a grass surface. With more advancements over the years synthetic turf started to take over as the better alternative to grass. For one the maintenance is relatively cheaper than a sod or natural grass field, and to the eye these fields look great. However, these fields could have a major fault in them that could have a massive impact.
Turf fields, as many would know that have played on them, have tons of small black pellets spread across the entire field. These pellets are called “crumb rubber” because like the name states, are the leftovers from ground up tires and any other ground up rubber product that can be recycled. Seems like a good idea right? Grind up rubber and re-purpose it to have a second life instead of ending up in landfills compounding that problem we have even further in this country. It is definitely a good idea but at what price?
While it would be a mistake to automatically jump to the conclusion that synthetic turf is causing cancer; the signs are all pointing that direction. As the old adage would say “where there is smoke, there is fire.” The evidence billowing out like smoke all across the country is pointing directly to the fire, the fire so many children and professional athletes play on.
This issue is in the forefront now, but in actuality it has been a growing concern for years. In 2008 synthetic turf fields at Thomas Jefferson Park in Manhattan, NY were found to have high levels of lead in them (eventually those fields were removed). Soccer coach Amy Griffin in an interview with NBC, said that even in 2009 she had suspicions over the black dots when two goalkeepers she was coaching were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In the video below the interview with Amy, which aired earlier this October, chronicled what she experienced along with other startling points as more people are searching for answers now.
It is surprising to look at this topic because I never thought that the playing field put in my hometown could potential be somewhat of a ‘cancer field.’ It is estimated that there are over 4,500 synthetic turf fields across the country and nobody has even let it sink in what the cost could be of playing on this type of surface. The EPA even has a list which states the chemicals that are in tires and other rubber products. What are those chemicals you ask? Well a good part of those chemicals are carcinogens which are contributors to cancer. The EPA is hesitating to make a full judgement, and they stand behind their own studies saying the effect of turf pellets are proven to be insufficient. However, they do admit that there should be more testing done.
It will be interesting to see where this develops and what else can be done to fix this problem. It cannot be ignored anymore and for all the technology we have there should be a way to find a middle ground. One that allows those who are proponents of having turf to keep their turf, while at the same time giving parents, coaches, and players the peace of mind that they aren’t playing on something which could give them cancer someday.
Who knows what the future may hold and what we could see happen. One thing is that we could find ourselves looking back on doing synthetic turf and scratch our heads in amazement. Amazement at the major fault we let go for so long, letting countless players come down with cancer before we even took any action.