Several reports have come out recently examining artificial turf and whether it’s safe for athletes, or exposing them to serious health risks.
NBC and ESPN E:60 have both produced investigative reports taking a close look to see if evidence exists that soccer players who play and practice on artificial turf are being put at unnecessary risk due to the chemicals found in the crumb rubber used in the artificial turf.
This crumb rubber, which is made from the recycled rubber of automotive scrap tires, has been used to provide more of a cushion in artificial turf in an effort to decrease player injuries. Plus, other benefits include increased field durability – especially during wet conditions – the elimination of pesticides that are used on natural grass fields, and water conservation.
On the flip side, there has been growing discussion of several cons associated with installing artificial turf. For example, temperatures on the field during the hotter months of the year soar; players are at risk for those nasty and painful turf burns when they slide to make a tackle or simply are knocked to the ground during the course of action; and there’s the possible bacterial exposure to MRSA, a serious and sometimes deadly infection.
But the most recent concerns that have been highlighted in the media are over whether artificial turf causes cancer, especially in soccer players, with goalkeepers being a primary target.
Finally, the EPA, CDC and Consumer Product Safety Commission have announced an action plan to investigate the safety of crumb rubber.
Whether artificial turf causes cancer or not, I cannot answer. But I hope that a comprehensive study will be conducted to examine if there are any health risks to our youth athletes playing on artificial turf so that as administrators and parents we can make informed decisions.
We all know that there are inherent risks associated with playing sports; however, we have an obligation to ensure parents and players are aware of potential risks that may exist. I doubt most parents would consider cancer as a potential risk associated with their child playing youth soccer right now.
It is critical that youth sport administrators, parents and players continue to force more studies that examine player safety. We must be the agents of change that ensure youth are protected so that they can reap the benefits of youth sports participation. Youth sports should be a positive experience for all involved.
We must put the safety of the kids first and continue to press issues such as these to keep youth sports fun and memorable.