November 3rd, 2014

Mom Detective on the Soccer Field: Is Artificial Turf Toxic?

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Groovy Green Livin Artificial Turf

This post was originally published at Moms Clean Air Force

It’s another gray, rainy day in New England and in a few short hours I’ll be driving a car filled with energetic young children to one of their four weekly soccer practices on a synthetic turf field. Unless thunder and lightening kick in their practice will go on, rain or even snow notwithstanding. The reason being an artificial turf field is almost always ready for play regardless of the weather.

For this reason and more the demand for artificial turf fields has grown to the point where more than “8,000 multi-use synthetic turf sports fields can be found throughout North American schools, colleges, parks and professional sports stadiums. About half of all NFL teams currently play their games on synthetic turf and, since 2003, over 70 FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cup matches have been played on synthetic turf soccer fields.

Artificial turf was originally invented by Monsanto in the early 1960’s and has taken several forms since then, with the most recent being “crumb rubber”. This type of artificial turf, which contains tiny black crumbs of rubber made from old car tires, can contain zinc, benzene, carbon black and lead, among other toxic substances.  As many parents well know, these “black crumbs” travel home in our children’s shoes, uniforms and hair and ultimately end up on the floor of our cars and homes.

Now we’re learning those black crumbs may be doing more harm than good. Soccer coach Amy Griffin began doing her own investigation  when two of her goalkeepers from the University of Washington were diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She compiled a list of 38 American soccer players — 34 of them goalies who have been diagnosed with cancer. Ethan Zohn, a former professional soccer player, winner of the reality-television series “Survivor”, co-founder of Grassroot Soccer and a Hodgkins lymphoma survivor has had similar findings. He’s compiled a list of 50 or so goalkeepers who’ve battled cancer.

“Since I’ve been public about my cancer journey, lots of soccer players that have or had cancer have reached out to me via social media etc. I noticed a weird similarity…many were keepers. Then Amy Griffin, the coach at University of Washington reached out because she noticed the same trend. Not all were the same age, but most were young adults, between 15-39.”

Both lists are not scientifically based, but the sheer number of players (especially goalkeepers) diagnosed with cancer is something that can’t be ignored and they raise concerns about the potential risks of playing on artificial turf.

Zohn started playing soccer when he was 6 years old and really began playing on turf when he was out of college. He freely admits that “the likelihood that playing on crumb rubber turf caused my cancer is very slim”, but goes on to add “kids growing up on artificial turf today with long term repetitive exposure is different.”

When asked why he thinks goalkeepers were taking the brunt of the diagnoses, Zohn responded with this:

“A dedicated goalkeeper trains differently than the others. We are in constant contact with the ground in many different ways. Some training sessions are 90 minutes of just diving to save low balls. We sit, stretch, dive, roll in it. We are down low and breathing the air, injesting rubber, it gets in our cuts, eyes, mouth, nose. On hot days the temp is 10 degrees hotter on turf. Add some water and you boil the stuff. “

As parents we should not have to sleuth around the playground making sure equipment and fields are free from toxic chemicals, nor should we have to tell our children that they can’t play a sport outside because it could make them sick.

If there are potential health hazards they need to be regulated before our children are playing and rolling around on them. It’s time to take the burden away from parents and place it where it belongs – with industry. Our government need to regulate toxic chemicals by requiring a more thorough health testing of products BEFORE known carcinogens end up in our children’s playgrounds, fields and ultimately in their bodies.

What can we do about artificial turf?

Last weekend I was sitting on the sidelines at my son’s soccer game when a group of concerned parents began discussing the dangers of artificial turf fields . While I was angry that there needed to be a discussion, it was refreshing to hear that parents were taking this seriously. The discussion led to the 20 million dollar question: “What can we do?”

Here are a few suggestions for concerned parents and children:

  • Wash your hands immediately after playing on a turf field. Showering is probably the best idea.
  • Encourage your children to take off their cleats and socks outside your home, so as not to track in the “black crumbs”.
  • Advocate for team benches on the sidelines so the players don’t have to sit directly on the artificial turf.
  • Request that goalkeeper training take place on the natural grass, not on the turf.
  • Encourage discussion in your city or town about the safety of these fields. Be present and vocal if your community is contemplating installing an artificial turf field or playground.

Our current chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, is badly broken. It allows chemicals onto the market without adequate safety testing. It’s time to change that.


 Do your kids play sports on an artificial turf field?


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photo credit: Bronski Beat via photopin cc

26 Responses to “Mom Detective on the Soccer Field: Is Artificial Turf Toxic?”

  1. Interesting… our school is talking about switching to turf next year. Sounds like its not a good idea.
    Melissa {All Things Chic} recently posted..Give the Gift of a Grand Adventure at DisneyMy Profile

  2. […] continue reading this post → […]

  3. We don’t have any experience on artificial turf, so I hadn’t even thought of the implications of being on it day in and day out. With all of those chemicals there is no way it’s good for you.

    And, having a team bench seems like it isn’t even something that should have to be discussed. I’m surprised!
    Krystyn @ Really, Are You Serious? recently posted..Three out of four | Mommy and Me Monday | 246th edMy Profile

  4. This is horrible, horrible news. Our HS just put one of these fields in. It’s crazy to think that no one thought of this before?

  5. Lori, as always, your posts are so helpful! My kids play on grass fields, but as they grow up, I expect we’ll move to artificial turf, and appreciate the exposure to this issue. Thank you!

  6. I had no idea how bad it is. My daughter plays on grass, but they are putting artificial turf in one of our busy soccer fields in town. Thanks for the tips.
    Jodi @ Mom’s Favorite Stuff recently posted..Watching Our Wedding Video 14 Years LaterMy Profile

  7. Our daughter’s school is moving to turf in the coming year due to such poor drainage with grass. I wish there was a happy medium to have turf like fields, but without the junky chemicals. Thanks for all the info, I had no idea.
    Emily @Random Recycling recently posted..Monday Meal Plan Nov wk 1My Profile

  8. Thanks for writing this Lori and pointing this out. My kids play on grass but they are still in the beginning stages of sports. I am sure we will come across turf sooner or later. I appreciate these tips on things that we can do.

  9. While my kids don’t play on artificial turf, this is a story I’ve been following. I appreciate your research on this topic along with helpful suggestions for concerned parents that I’ll share with other parents who I know are worried about game play on artificial turf. Thanks!
    Leticia- Tech Savvy Mama recently posted..Play Nintendo: The Parent & Kid Go-to-Source for All Things Nintendo (w. giveaway)My Profile

  10. I actually shared a link about this on FB recently. So worrisome. You can’t help but see a correlation.

  11. Wow, I can certainly say I learned some new today! I never knew the harm around artificial turf. Thankfully my children are not currently exposed to it.
    Caroline Murphy recently posted..Grilling Omaha Steaks with the FamilyMy Profile

  12. Eye opening! I’m not sure whether or not the indoor turf where m son plays soccer is artificial or not, but will not have to investigate. So worrisome. Will have to share this with other parents.

  13. Hi Pilar, I’m guessing that if it’s indoor it’s artificial. It would be very hard to support natural turf in an indoor setting. Let me know what you find.

  14. I’m glad you’re children aren’t exposed Caroline. It’s very unsettling- more regulation and research is needed.

  15. Thanks for sharing the information Melanie. So important to at least create an awareness around the issue.

  16. Artificial turf was put in at our high school and one town field a few years ago. I remember going to the High School field once on a warm day – I could smell the rubber. Didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t give it much more thought until this year when my 10 year old daughter started playing on it. Now it scares me.

    I don’t think the fields will be going away anytime soon, but awareness will hopefully help. Another parent and I were talking about chipping in to get our Coach one of those portable benches for the spring. I will definitely do that now.
    Kristina Greene recently posted..Making Sense of the Massachusetts Bottle BillMy Profile

  17. Thanks for writing about this. I never thought about turf being toxic – but I guess it’s not surprising seeing its made from old recycled tires…yikes.
    There’s also evidence that knee injuries can occur more frequently on artificial turf if the kids are wearing longer studded cleats. This can be avoided by buying cleats specifically designed for turf.

  18. Hi Guys,
    We make Turf in Australia and it’s not toxic.

  19. I had no idea that turf might be toxic! Now I’m nervous about the years of high school soccer I played on the turf field. I should probably see a doctor.

  20. Hi Veronica, better to have the information. My son plays goalie and is on the turf quite a bit. I’m anxious about it too.

  21. Wow! That’s interesting.

    Most of our sessions are now on artifical turf and there’s a big business in it as well.

    There also far easier to keep – BUT if they are hazardous to our children’s health there needs to be a massive look into it!

    Great post!
    Chris recently posted..TEKK Trainer Rebounder: Net Review (Soccer, Lacrosse & Baseball)My Profile

  22. […] been writing about the dangers of artificial turf for quite some time. Finally three federal agencies are teaming up to investigate the safety of […]

  23. Thank GOD… our soccer coach institution is planning to switch to turf surface next academic year. Seems like it is not an excellent choice! Great research by the way.
    Aiden recently posted..Best Lacrosse Rebounders Reviews – Lax Pitch Back InfoMy Profile

  24. I haven’t really played on an artificial turf but I have heard it is kinda really dangerous. Thanks for the tip.
    Ola recently posted..Fan Shout: Paul Pogba leaving from Paris to Real MadridMy Profile

  25. Hii
    Great post!
    I never thought about turf being toxic but I guess it’s not surprising seeing its made from old recycled tires…yikes.

    There’s also evidence that knee injuries can occur more frequently on artificial turf if the children are wearing longer studded cleats.

    Thanks,for sharing this valuable information with us.

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About Lori

Hi! I’m Lori, a recovering attorney, writer, and mom to three boys. Join me as I uncover and share the latest info on healthy living. Learn more.

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