Cindy Boren describes a scenario which plays out routinely for America’s young athletes:

Every day, hundreds of thousands of soccer goalies come home from competing on artificial turf fields and remove rubber crumbs from their hair, mouths, nose and abrasions, shaking the stuff from their clothing and gear.

The particles, called butadiene rubber or “crumb rubber,” is made from synthetic fibers and scrap tires. It raises dust over the fields and smells like, well, former tires. Now, a number of people are questioning the safety of fields that contain those crumbs and an NBC News report cited incidences of cancer specifically among goalies.


Mike Ozanian watched the “scathing reports” last month on NBC’s Nightly News:

[T]he broadcast focused on Amy Griffin, associate head coach for the University of Washington’s women’s soccer team. Griffin, in her words, has discovered “a stream of kids” that have played on artificial turf and soon gotten cancer. Griffin has compiled a list of 38 American soccer players–34 of them goalies–who have been diagnosed with cancer. At least a dozen played in Washington, but the geographic spread is nationwide. Blood cancers like lymphoma and leukemia dominate the list.


The list of chemicals and materials in these tire crumbs is extensive and includes some toxic and carcinogenic substances such as arsenic, benzene, lead, mercury, naphthalene, toluene, and many more.  Pediatrician Samantha Ahdoot explains why children are so vulnerable to toxic chemicals and pollutants in the environment that kids live and play in:

Children are not just little adults. They breathe faster than adults, spend more time outside and have proportionately greater skin surface exposed to the environment, making them increasingly vulnerable to environmental contaminants. Their ongoing development heightens risk of infection, malnutrition, undernourishment and trauma that can cause permanent dysfunction.


Hannah Rappleye highlights why these rubberized ball fields are so popular in communities across America:

Most of the 11,000 fields are made of crumb rubber, which became popular a dozen years ago. Called styrene butadiene rubber, or “crumb rubber,” the turf contains tiny black crumbs made from pulverized car tires, poured in between the fake grass blades. The rubber infill gave the field more bounce than previous synthetic surfaces, cushioned the impact for athletes, and helped prevent serious injuries like concussions.

Schools and local governments liked the benefits of the fields. They don’t require pesticides or herbicides to maintain, they don’t need water to live, and they can withstand heavy use year-round. They also provide a means to recycle millions of discarded tires.


Communities have started to push back and some have been successful, according to Monica Alba:

A New Jersey city has halted its plans to install an artificial turf field following an NBC News investigation that raised potential safety concerns, city officials said. Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian decided to keep the natural grass football field at Carey Stadium until more research is done.

Earlier this week, Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien, Washington scrapped its plan to use crumb rubber turf in its new football field after seeing the NBC News reports. According to Principal Mike Prato, the school will instead use a Nike infill made up of recycled tennis shoe soles.


Other communities are against crumb rubber turfs:

While more testing is needed, New York City moved to stop installing crumb rubber fields in its parks in 2008 and the Los Angeles Unified School District did the same in 2009. In Maryland, the Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition supports legislation to require warning signs at artificial turf fields and opposes a bill to use state funds to construct artificial turf fields.


But one neighborhood in the South Hills of Pittsburgh appears to be losing the fight:

Mt. Lebanon commissioners endured a fusillade of criticism at the Oct. 27 meeting, as residents once again took to the microphone to protest the municipality’s installation of artificial turf at Middle and Wildcat fields. Despite the opposition, commissioners steadfastly refused to reconsider the project.

By now, most of the opposition’s arguments are well-worn: potential health risks from crumb rubber infill components; the possibility of increased flooding in nearby neighborhoods; and whether the $750,000 municipal share of the project couldn’t be put to better use elsewhere – such as funding improvements to local roads.

Opponents of the turf project, which broke ground earlier this month, were energized by a rally on Oct. 26 and an NBC News story probing possible links between artificial turf materials and cancer.

Still, the four commissioners who backed the project stood firm.


You can watch the news segments from NBC’s Nightly News here and here.