OLYMPIA, Wash.—A newly issued analysis from the Washington State Department of Health concluded there is no evidence that cancer rates among young athletes are increased by playing on crumb rubber athletic turf.
"We did not find the number of cancers among soccer players, select and premier players or goalkeepers reported to the project team to be higher than expected based on Washington cancer rates for people of the same ages," said the executive summary of the analysis from the WSDOH.
A coalition of three synthetic turf associations—the Recycled Rubber Council, the Safe Fields Alliance and the Synthetic Turf Council—said they were pleased but not surprised by the results of the WSDOH analysis.
"The findings address an area of uncertainty and lend further credence to the many available scientific analyses on the subject with consistent conclusions," said Michael Peterson, scientific adviser to the RRC. "The best evidence indicates there are no safety risks associated with chemicals found in recycled rubber infill."
The genesis of the analysis, according to the study's executive summary, was the concerns of Amy Griffin, a women's soccer coach at the University of Washington, about the number of young soccer players—especially goalkeepers—who were diagnosed with cancer, especially leukemia and lymphoma.
Griffin eventually compiled a list of 53 young people with cancer, most of whom played soccer, the WSDOH said. Many of the cancer victims played on crumb rubber fields, and Griffin wondered if there was a connection between their illness and the chemicals in the crumb rubber.
Griffin's concerns became the subject of two NBC News stories and inspired calls from Congress and elsewhere to ban crumb rubber infill.
The WSDOH analysis:
Compared cancer types, rates and changes among Washington State and U.S. residents aged five to 24;
Reviewed the scientific and medical literature to understand factors that increased the likelihood of getting leukemia or lymphoma as a child or adolescent; and
Reviewed research on the relationship of crumb rubber, recycled rubber products and artificial turf to human health.
"Using Coach Griffin's list to identify soccer players with cancer, this investigation found less cancer among the soccer players than expected based on rates of cancer among Washington residents of the same ages," the executive summary said.
"The Washington State Department of Health recommends that people who enjoy soccer continue to play irrespective of the type of field surface," it said.
The WSDOH analysis is one of several studies inspired by Griffin's concerns. One study by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health, issued in December 2016, concluded that playing sports on crumb rubber turf was safe.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently issued a status report on its ongoing study of the possible health and environmental effects of crumb rubber athletic turf. The results of the research should be available sometime in 2017, the EPA said.
The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, however, is conducting its own study of the environmental and health effects of crumb rubber turf infill. The project is scheduled for completion in mid-2019.