With every passing of a professional player and a diagnosis of childhood sickness, the thoughts around deadly synthetic turf will always remain a concern. Thousands of fields around the world still use artificial turf and even more were played on back in the day. With every hard ground ball or strategically placed corner kick comes an incessant amount of rubber pellets made from recycled tires flow freely through the air and also embed in the human skin, which could potentially contain hazardous chemicals and metals.
I didn’t realize I needed a MSDS when I stepped on a youth soccer field.
As of 2016, there are currently more than 11,000 synthetic fields at schools and parks around the country. The fields, used by both children and professional athletes, typically contain between 20,000 to 30,000 ground up tires. Mercury, benzene and arsenic are just a few of the potentially harmful chemicals they contain, and older turf fields have also been found to contain higher levels of lead, according to reports from the EPA and California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
With the unfortunate passing of Philadelphia Phillies legend Darren Daulton, the conversation of synthetic turf should move back to the forefront. AstroTurf was used at Veterans Stadium, the former home of the Phillies, and brain cancer has been linked to five of their players who played at The Vet: Ken Brett, Darren Daulton, Johnny Oates, Tug McGraw and John Vukovich. The only four other Major League Baseball players of the era to develop the condition all played at the same stadium on visiting teams.
Many have speculated that the artificial turf could have been a cause, but the Philadelphia Eagles shared the same turf without any known cases of brain cancer. With no concrete evidence, the alerts seemed to be silenced. However, the alerts were again brought to the forefront in 2009, when the speculation became headline news in the soccer world.
First, it was the fears that former Liverpool F.C. player Gary Ablett, who died of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2012, died due to the ramifications of playing on artificial turf. Next, it was former chief executive for the National Health Service in Cumbria Nigel Maguire, who believes that his son, a goalkeeper, developed Hodgkin’s lymphoma by playing on an artificial surface. He has been an adamant protester of these surfaces and has since called for a ban. This is just the beginning of people listening.
Amy Griffin, former member of the U.S. National Team and associate head coach of women’s soccer at the University of Washington in Seattle, first became curious back in 2009.
“We had two goalies from the neighborhood, and they had grown up and gone to college,” Griffin said. “And then they both came down with lymphoma. “And we were all sitting there chatting—both of them were bald—and they were like, ‘Why us?’ We were just brainstorming and someone said, ‘I wonder if it has something to do with the black dots.’”
I think we all have encountered the “black dots” and have wondered why they exist. Black dots are the crumb rubber used in today’s artificial turf fields, and even on playgrounds. They are used as a low maintenance alternative to natural grass. This is controversial because of concerns that the tires contain carcinogens. There are 27 chemicals being used, with 11 of them being known as cancer causing elements. I am far from an expert, but this entire subject is concerning.
As we remember the words and memories of the great Darren Daulton, let’s also make it a point to educate ourselves on the fears of artificial turf. There are too many links to these surfaces and the numbers continue to rise. In a world that is full of terror and natural disasters, the fear of sports isn’t something we often ponder. However, with the information above and the ESPN video below with the specifics of these surfaces, it is now the time to act!
Note: This piece was produced and aired in 2015, but the numbers are still growing. A real eye opener if you ask me!
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