Amy Griffin, a former goalkeeper for the U.S. National soccer team that won the first women’s World Cup in 1991, began tracking American soccer players that had been diagnosed with cancer since 2009 after noticing a “stream of kids” that were getting sick after playing regularly on synthetic fields.
In 2014, Griffin told NBC that 38 soccer players contacted her to confirm that they’d been diagnosed with cancer. Today, that number has risen to 220 athletes, 166 of them being soccer players. Of the soccer players, 102 were also former goalkeepers, who spend more time on the ground in direct contact with the synthetic materials than the other players.
“I am not making any claims about what is happening with these players, but this problem isn’t fading,” Griffin said. “It’s going the other way.”
Despite the synthetic turf industry’s claims that the product is safe, research shows that the ground-up tires used to make crumb-rubber pellets that make up a lot of synthetic playing surfaces are loaded with toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has advised that an additional study will be conducted with other federal agencies, and will test the different kinds of tire crumbs. The EPA has also committed to reaching out to the public, especially athletes and parents.
EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen told The Huffington Post that existing studies “were not designed, nor were they sufficient in size or scope, to draw conclusions about the safety of all fields across the nation.” She also pointed out, “They cannot fully answer questions about what if any potential risks might be posed from exposure.”
David Brown is a public health toxicologist who formerly worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) but now is the director of public health toxicology for Environment and Human Health, Inc., a nonprofit organization. When reviewing Griffin’s list, he noticed an oddity.
“Leukemias are the most prevalent cancer in that [younger] group, and [Amy’s list] has more lymphomas … her ratios are upside down,” Brown said. “You should never get more lymphomas than leukemias.” He further advised that the information “signals that there’s a chemical involved.”
More than 11,000 fields are made from synthetic materials at school and parks around the country. Each field contains between 20,000 and 30,000 ground-up tires, and have been found to contain carcinogenic chemicals such as mercury, benzene and arsenic.
Exposure to products containing benzene can cause life-threatening diseases including Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and Aplastic Anemia. Benzene is a chemical that is easily absorbed through the skin, and once it enters the bloodstream, it infiltrates bone marrow, which disrupts cell formation.