In this 24 hour news cycle of instant gratification, it is more important than ever to know the source of the information you reply upon - particularly when the health and future of our children and our planet are at stake. The question of how best to meet recreational needs is no exception. For too many years, the debate over the safety of artificial turf has been dominated by industry marketing materials masquerading as science; paid 'experts' lobbying the AT products as 'OK'; federal agencies responsible for safeguarding the public deferring their responsibility to private companies with huge financial interests in outcomes.

Today we see clearly the tactics of the Synthetic Turf Council as they remind members of their financial interest in swaying public opinion through a unified offensive against the legitimate concerns being raised from the lack of science to support artificial turf and tire crumb safety claims. They are right - there is a lack of science. You see, by conducting an inadequate study that does not find safety issues one can't conclude the studied product is safe. One can only conclude the product is not properly tested via a very limited study. The 60+ reports touted on the industry website all have this in common.

Both the Connecticut and Massachusetts health department letters referenced in the STC tweet-fest call-to-action have been challenged by scientists. For example, in this letter, public health toxicologist David Brown, ScD, explains to the Massachusetts Dept of Health why it is important to protect children’s health by avoiding the use of artificial turf fields.  The letter begins,

The Massachusetts Department of Health letter, sent to the Medway Board of Health, regarding artificial turf provides an excellent summary of minimal number of the studies that have been conducted to date, attempting to estimate the risk to young athletes of exposure to chemicals contained in artificial turf fields.  If you look carefully at each of the studies cited and note the size of the crumb rubber sample tested, you will see the problem. The findings of each of the studies are based on a startling limited number (2 to 12) actual samples of crumb rubber (each weighing a no more than few ounces) , on small number of fields most without with any testing of the crumb rubber (4 to 6 fields at most).  There is no study that is comprehensive systematic assessment of the risk. 

Instead, a natural experiment is being conducted in which thousands of children are being exposed on playing fields to rubber, 1) known to contain carcinogens and 2) documented to produce cancer in the workers in the tire manufacturing plants.  The results of this human health experiment is to determine whether there is enough exposure to carcinogens in the synthetic turf fields to cause cancer in the children who play on these fields.  

Now that there is strong indication that cancer has appeared in one segment of the student groups that have played on synthetic turf, (soccer goalies in particular as well as others) the experiment is allowed to continue with health departments standing by until they can obtain positively statistical confirmation of the cancer hazard.

Over recent months, both the US-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have backed away from their previous safety claims. Since 2008 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has listed artificial turf as one of seven sources of lead exposure for children -- yet the precaution warning signs the CDC has recommended since 2008 are not required and are therefore not posted (many entities have stated that they choose not to alarm people). The US-EPA, CPSC and CDC have stated that more study is needed to determine safety, but leave those studies to state and local entities.

In California legislators are considering Bill SB-47 to do just that. The bill will require consideration of non-tire crumb infill alternatives for new synthetic turf fields & playground surfaces for two years, while the state conducts a comprehensive study on potential health impacts. Synthetic Turf Council members are actively lobbying to defeat the bill. (Click here to watch the hearing from minute 22:00 thru 40:00). The opposition's stated concern includes claims that the study would be too expensive despite the fact -- as Sen Jerry Hill explains (starting @ min 35:00) -- the funding mechanism to pay for the study is already in place. At the behest of the opposition, the bill has been amended so that it would not delay current installations. On March 18th, 2015 the bill was unanimously approved of by California Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

The STC and their industry members are -- and have been for some time -- defensive. We get it. Now with their current business model at stake they are mounting a PR offensive, but we would like to remind them that on the other side of this issue -- children’s lives are at stake. We agree with the supporters of SB-47. It is more important to spend the time and money on the scientific studies that federal agencies say are needed to determine the risks, than to continue installing fields that are potentially toxic. We recommend that every proposal for new fields include the lower cost alternative of properly installing and (importantly) maintaining natural grass.  

Until there is scientific proof to know our kids are safe, we will #JustSayNo to #ToxicTurf. We choose to #KEEPITREAL.