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Synthetic Turf Council Responds to NBC Investigation

Michael Gaio

By now it's likely you've seen NBC's story, "How Safe Is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On?" The 3,500-word story was first published on October 8th and has been the topic of a lot of conversation in the athletic and recreation industries. The video version of the story has aired on just about every NBC News program.

If you missed it, you can read the entire story here. We've embedded the video version below:

The story focuses on Amy Griffin, an associate head coach for the University of Washington women's soccer team. After learning of several soccer goalies who were diagnosed with cancer, Griffin began to look into whether the synthetic turf fields these goalies played on, and specifically the crumb rubber infill specified for the fields, could be linked to the cancer.

Since 2009 Griffin has compiled a list of 38 American soccer players — 34 of them goalies — who have been diagnosed with cancer.

Author Hannah Rappleye writes:

Artificial turf fields are now everywhere in the United States, from high schools to multi-million-dollar athletic complexes. As any parent or player who has been on them can testify, the tiny black rubber crumbs of which the fields are made — chunks of old tires — get everywhere. In players’ uniforms, in their hair, in their cleats.

But for goalkeepers, whose bodies are in constant contact with the turf, it can be far worse. In practices and games, they make hundreds of dives, and each plunge sends a black cloud of tire pellets into the air. The granules get into their cuts and scrapes, and into their mouths. Griffin wondered if those crumbs – which have been known to contain carcinogens and chemicals – were making players sick.

But despite the grim outlook, the article goes on to state, "No research has linked cancer to artificial turf."

And then, "NBC’s own extensive investigation, which included a review of the relevant studies and interviews with scientists and industry professionals, was unable to find any agreement over whether crumb turf had ill effects on young athletes, or even whether the product had been sufficiently tested."

However, that doesn't draw the clicks and viewers as well as the "synthetic turf fields cause cancer" storyline.

So the Synthetic Turf Council, which was contacted for comment in Rappleye's story, has put out a response of its own. Although the response came out late last week, we wanted to publish a portion of it here for those who missed it. You can read the statement in its entirety here.

The STC believes that reliable scientific data should be the foundation of any discussion regarding the safety of synthetic turf with crumb rubber infill. During the past two decades, there have been more than 60 technical studies and reports that review the health effects of crumb rubber as it pertains to toxicities from inhalation, ingestion and dermal contact, as well as cancer. These studies and reports were performed during the past 22 years by independent organizations such as: Connecticut Department of Health, Hofstra University, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and University of California Berkeley. The preponderance of evidence shows no negative health effects associated with crumb rubber in synthetic turf. As NBC factually reported, "there is no research directly linking crumb rubber exposure to cancer.”

According to an EPA report, Child-Specific Exposure Factors Handbook, "supplemental chronic risk estimates indicate regular exposure (e.g. regular play on ground rubber filled athletic fields) to ground rubber for the length of one’s childhood does not increase risk of cancer above levels considered by the state of California to be de minimus.”

Despite the STC's response, the NBC story has given ammo to critics of synthetic turf. Just yesterday, Turf Republic, an online resource for the turfgrass community, tweeted us this story titled, "Grass IS the Answer!"

Whether you agree or not, it's clear that with the likes of NBC still willing to dig in, the debate over infill synthetic turf safety has staying power.

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