Turf & Rec

NBC story raises crumb rubber concerns

October 15, 2014  By  Mike Jiggens

A story broadcast Oct. 8 on the NBC Nightly News has brought more attention to safety issues regarding tire crumb rubber being used on artificial turf athletic field surfaces.

A follow-up story aired the following night to explore a reported link between crumb rubber and cancer.

The NBC report focused on the University of Washington's Soccer Coach, Amy Griffin, who began to ask serious questions about the material used on artificial fields, her main concern: the crumb rubber made from shredded tires that's used on fields all over the world.
In the report, Griffin reports she 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.

NBC reported that environmental advocates want the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to take a closer look at crumb rubber. While both the CPSC and the EPA performed studies more than five years ago, both agencies recently backtracked on their assurances the material was safe, calling their studies "limited." But while the EPA told NBC News in a statement that "more testing needs to be done," the agency also said it considered artificial turf to be a "state and local decision," and would not be commissioning further research.

NBC wasn't the only one that addressed this concern. Back in June of this year, KOMO-TV, an ABC affiliate in Seattle, Wash., did a report on Griffin's concern. It presented much of the same information. It reported that what triggered Griffin's concern was a list she compiled that indicated 13 players from Washington had all been diagnosed with rare types of cancer. Of those 13, 11 came from an even smaller pool of players: goal keepers.

In the KOMO report Griffin comments, "Everyone says it's just a coincidence and kind of walks away, but the ratio of goal keepers to field players is 15 to 1, 16 to 2, and I know plenty of goal keepers that have cancers and I don't know many field players."
NBC made it clear that "no research has linked cancer to artificial turf. Griffin collected names through personal experience with sick players, and acknowledges that her list is not a scientific data set. But it's enough to make her ask whether crumb rubber artificial turf, a product that has been rolled out in tens of thousands of parks, playgrounds, schools and stadiums in the U.S., is safe for the athletes and kids who play on it. Others across the country are raising similar questions, arguing that the now-ubiquitous material, made out of synthetic fibers and scrap tire—which can contain benzene, carbon black and lead, among other substances—has not been adequately tested. Few studies have measured the risk of ingesting crumb rubber orally."

NBC also reported, "That today, according to figures from the Synthetic Turf Council, more than 11,000 synthetic turf sports fields are in use in the U.S. Most of them are crumb rubber. Crumb rubber infill is also used in children's playgrounds across the country."

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