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Is artificial turf causing cancer?

Synthetic turf fields are made of a synthetic grasslike material, to which 40,000 ground-up rubber tires are added as "in-fill." It is the out-gassing of chemicals from these ground-up rubber tire "crumbs," as well as the rubber crumb dust, that pose the greatest health concern to the athletes.

There are no barriers between the rubber crumbs and the athletes who are playing on these fields. The rubber crumbs are unstable and get into shoes, stockings, clothing and even the hair and ears of those who play on them. As the fields get used, dust particles from the crumb rubber develop and are easily inhaled, increasing the toxic exposure levels.

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Why is it, when scientists have presented the facts about the toxicity of synthetic turf fields, that government agencies at all levels have not been willing to protect our children and our athletes, allowing the fields to be installed at high schools throughout the country?

Rubber tires contain a number of carcinogens and lung irritants. Roughly 20 percent to 30 percent of tire rubber is carbon black. Carbon black is a carcinogen. A substance known as "1,3-butadiene" found in tires is linked to lymphomas. The government knows a lot about the harmful effect that tires present, yet the Environmental Protection Agency has actually promoted the use of shredded tires where our children play.

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Also, why is it that when people know that there are toxic chemicals in tires they allow their children to play on fields that contain them? One answer is because industry claims their fields are safe, and industry has drowned out the scientists and parents who are claiming the fields are not safe. As well, there have been a number of inadequate studies that get referred to over and over again while other studies that have incriminating evidence never get read.

The next question often asked by proponents of synthetic turf fields is, "If the fields are dangerous, why aren't we seeing more sick people?" Well, we now are. Amy Griffin, an assistant coach at the University of Washington, has compiled a list of 38 U.S. soccer players — most of them goalies — who have been diagnosed with cancer. Think how many other cases there might be if anyone was collecting the data. There is no government agency or independent entity that is collecting the data on cancer and respiratory cases connected to these fields.

We are subjecting whole generations of children to chemical exposure from shredded rubber tires. For some, the exposure starts when they are just toddlers, when the rubber tire mulch is put down on their playgrounds, and continues as they grow up at schools that have installed synthetic turf fields. All this without government either testing the safety of the shredded tires or the Centers for Disease Control tracking the health effects from the exposure.

Environment and Human Health, Inc., is a group of 10 physicians and public health professionals dedicated to protecting human health from environmental harm through research and the promotion of sound public policy. It has been sounding the alarm about the health risks from synthetic turf fields for over six years and is recommending that children and students should be discouraged from playing on synthetic turf fields that contain ground-up rubber tire infill. If children and students must play on these fields, they should shower immediately after leaving the field, as well as change their clothing, including their socks and shoes. This is because the tiny rubber crumbs and the rubber crumb dust gets into socks, shoes, hair, ears etc. from the field's rubber tire infill.

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The country needs to collect the data on the numbers of students and athletes who are getting either cancer or respiratory diseases from playing on the synthetic turf fields. As well, the country needs a congressional hearing to understand how and why the government has stood by and let a toxic material be placed where our children and athletes play.

Nancy Alderman is president of Environment and Human Health, Inc. Her email is nancy.alderman@ehhi.org.

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