A former top soccer player who helped persuade federal regulators to take a closer look at the potential health hazards posed by synthetic turf says more than 200 athletes who have spent hours a day on the rubber turf have reached out to her after being diagnosed with cancer.
Amy Griffin, a goalkeeper for the U.S. women’s national soccer team that won the first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991, has been keeping track of athletes with cancer since 2009.
She told Huffington Post that of the 220 athletes diagnosed with cancer that she has heard from, 166 (more than 75 percent) of them are or were soccer players. Of those soccer players, 102 were former goalkeepers.
Goalkeepers spend more time on the ground than other players, putting them in closer contact with turf made of tiny rubber pellets made of ground-up recycled tires. This synthetic turf, often referred to as “crumb rubber” turf, contains a dozen known carcinogenic substances, including benzene, mercury, arsenic, benthothiazole, butyplated hydroxyanisole, and phthalates.
Each crumb rubber field contains between 20,000 to 30,000 used tires that are ground up and processed to resemble grass. There are more than 11,000 synthetic rubber fields at schools, parks, and other venues throughout the U.S., which means a whole generation of children and young adults are being exposed to the potentially life-threatening health effects these fields may pose.
Most of the athletes on Ms. Griffin’s list have been diagnosed with lymphoma, with leukemia being the next most frequent type of cancer. Most of the athletes were born in the late-1980s to mid-1990s and were active around the time that synthetic turf fields became more common, Huffington Post reported.
Ms. Griffin, who now coaches at the University of Washington, would visit patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital with her team. One year, she said, three of the four patients they visited were child goalkeepers fighting lymphoma.
David Brown, a public health toxicologist for the nonprofit Environment and Human Health, Inc. and former toxicologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), analyzed Ms. Griffin’s research and instantly noted a red flag.
“You should never get more lymphomas than leukemias,” Dr. Brown told former U.S. Women’s National Team member Julie Foudy in a story she wrote for ESPN last fall. “Leukemias are the most prevalent cancer in that [younger] group, and [Amy’s list] has more lymphomas … her ratios are upside down.”
The inverted data “signals that there’s a chemical involved,” Dr. Brown said.
Although the government is taking bigger steps in addressing the potential threats, many are concerned its actions are too slow and too long in coming.
“In my opinion, this is the largest failing of the government I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health, Inc., told Hufington Post. “This is our entire country. A whole generation is at risk.”