Possible link between artificial turf and cancer risks investigated

If there is a possibility that playing the sport you love could cause serious health issues, would you continue to play?

Although no direct correlation between high school athletes playing on turf fields and developing cancer has been scientifically proven, following recent speculation national studies are under way.

It all started with Amy Griffin, a former goalkeeper for the U.S. national soccer team who now coaches for the University of Washington’s women’s team. In 2014, she began compiling an unofficial list of athletes who had a lot of exposure to turf and later developed cancer. That list has grown to more than 220 people, most of whom are soccer players.

According to the Center for Environmental Health, the research that has been done about these fields has shown that the crumb rubber pellets made out of recycled tires can contain toxic chemicals, but not necessarily at levels dangerous to human health.

Amy Griffin doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but she does believe there are too many similarities between players to simply be coincidence.

Almost half of those 220 high school athletes that developed cancer on these fields were soccer goalies, who tend to have a lot more contact with the crumb rubber pellets when they dive or head the ball. Another parallel between these players with cancer is that they almost all develop leukemia or lymphoma, which for more than 200 high school athletes that played on these fields is eerily similar. Although there is no proven correlation between high school athletes developing cancer and playing on the turf field, there have been more reports done following the allegations.

In 2014, the same year that these claims were made, the Carmel School Board made the decision to tear out the natural grass athletic field and replace it with artificial turf. As construction began, so did the murmurings of a health risk because of the crumb rubber field.

“I personally never heard of reports until the summer of 2014,” CHS athletic director Golden Anderson says when speaking of allegations of health risks. Anderson mentions the positives of placing the field, saying the original grass field was “too narrow for soccer,” and that it “was impossible to play field hockey.”

But if CUSD were placing the field now, decision-makers might not have chosen this option.

There wasn’t any information on this possible connection by the time they were placing the field, but replacing it is still a viable option. Anderson affirms that steps will be taken to ensure the safety of Carmel High students if further reports confirming this correlation are released to the public.

In early February, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency made a plan to study key elements in human health. By late this year, there are status reports that could give some insight into these allegations.

Kris Ann Ditmore, varsity field hockey coach, feels as though she hasn’t been informed of the risks.

“I’ve read about it, but I don’t know much about crumb rubber specifically,” says Ditmore, who adds that she would need to know more about it before dealing with any sort of precaution.

“It was just brought to my attention this year,” continues Ditmore, who puts the safety of her players as her first priority. Ditmore has been coaching for nine years with the field placed a little over two years ago, yet she only recently saw these reports.

Many student athletes are already informed and aware of the possible threat that crumb rubber fields could have on their health, but others are oblivious.

Haemi Chee, a freshman CHS field hockey center defence, had never heard of these reports and was unsure of what they meant. Chee, with limited information, feels as though the school should take any and all precautions.

“I feel like they should replace it with another material even if it isn’t proven yet,” Chee says.

Another student, junior Joyce Doherty, has been playing field hockey for all three years of her high school career and trusts the school board.

“I think Carmel does take a lot of precaution to safety,” says Doherty, indicating that this issue would be no different.

There have been many high schools that have chosen to take out their turf field and replace it with a field that holds no possible threat to the safety of the players. The most popular option has been a cork-and-coconut artificial turf with a shock pad underneath. If research is released that crumb rubber can have long term effects on the human body, CHS will find another solution that will put safety first, Anderson assures.

More reports are due to be released by early 2017 at the latest.

-Ellah Foster