Image: Alex Grimm

Image: Alex Grimm

Peter Andrew Hart, The Huffington Post, April 14, 2016


The federal government launched a new effort in February to study health concerns related to synthetic turf, as worries grow about possible cancer risks to the millions of athletes who play on artificial fields across the country.

Now, a former top soccer player who helped convince the feds to investigate the issue says more than 200 athletes have reached out to her after being diagnosed with cancer.

Amy Griffin, a goalkeeper for the U.S. National team that won the first women’s World Cup in 1991, has been informally tracking American soccer players with cancer since 2009, when she noticed a “stream of kids” who’d played soccer on artificial fields were getting sick.

Griffin, now an associate head coach for the University of Washington women’s soccer team, told NBC in 2014 that she’d heard from 38 soccer players who’d been diagnosed with cancer. That tally has climbed to 220 athletes — 166 of them soccer players.

Of the soccer players, 102 were former goalkeepers like Griffin. They spent more time on the ground and were more exposed to crumb rubber — the tiny rubber pellets found in artificial turf — than their teammates.

“I am not making any claims about what is happening with these players,” Griffin said. “But this problem isn’t fading. It’s going the other way.”

But the current lack of scientific consensus on the issue underscores why additional federal research is important. The last time the Environmental Protection Agency studied crumb rubber in 2009, it found potentially harmful substances in the material, but only enough to merit a “low level of concern.”

This year, the EPA said it could no longer stand by that study — which was limited to four crumb-rubber fields — and announced a follow-up study with other federal agencies that will evaluate existing research, test different kinds of tire crumb and involve outreach to the public, including athletes and parents.

Existing studies by federal, state and local government agencies “were not designed, nor were they sufficient in size or scope, to draw conclusions about the safety of all fields across the nation,” EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen told The Huffington Post. “They cannot fully answer questions about what if any potential risks might be posed from exposure.”

Griffin acknowledges that her list is not scientific, but says it represents an effort to bolster the anecdotal evidence she’d been seeing with numbers. “When my gut instinct and science starts to match up,” she said, “that’s a scary thing.”