WASHINGTON—A recent NBC News report is reviving controversy over a commonly used recycled rubber product that many officials in the rubber industry say is harmless and highly useful to many, a possible carcinogen to others.
“Not to downplay the seriousness of this issue,” said Michael Blumenthal, founder of consulting firm Marshay Inc. and former Rubber Manufacturers Association vice president. “But now it boils down to this: those who like crumb rubber artificial turf, and those who don't.”
The Oct. 8 NBC story, “How Safe Is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On?” told of efforts of Amy Griffin, associate head coach for the women's soccer team at the University of Washington, to compile a list of young soccer players contracting leukemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers after two goalies she knew were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Griffin found 38 U.S. soccer players with blood cancers, including 34 goalkeepers. Besides being soccer players, the one thing they had in common was that they often played on artificial turf made with crumb rubber granules.
“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,” wrote Hannah Rappleye, NBC News reporter.
“But for goalkeepers, whose bodies are in constant contact with the turf, it can be far worse,” Rappleye wrote. “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.”
The NBC story was a catalyst for follow-up stories in other news outlets and environmental blogs across the U.S.
“While a direct link hasn't been proven, it does raise an alarming question: why would young soccer players, and especially goalies who spend a lot of time on the ground, suddenly be at risk for cancer?” wrote Caroline Cox, research director for the Oakland, Calif.-based Center for Environmental Health, in an Oct. 9 story for the CEH website. Several years ago, the CEH won a settlement with artificial turf manufacturers to stop using lead as a pigment stabilizer.
The story also motivated Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., to write the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, calling for an official study of the potential health risks of crumb rubber in artificial athletic turf.
“It is clear that more data is needed to evaluate the risks that exist from exposure to crumb rubber in athletic turf and its effect on human health,” he wrote in his Oct. 10 letter.