Schools, Doctor Ponder Cancer Claims Against Artificial Turf
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Because of the drought, and easier maintenance, more and more people are turning to fields of artificial turf instead of real grass, but some say that trend has led to a spike in cancer.
Now, some parents say they’ll never let their kids play sports on a synthetic field again.
“You can neglect it, and neglect it, and neglect it, and you get out there with a blower and clean it up, and it looks like the day you put it in,” said Mark Swaim of Southwest Greens of Bakersfield.
Swaim might be the “go-to” guy for putting fake grass on your lawn. Most think it looks pretty good, and since nobody has to water it, the artificial grass might be a good investment.
“We figure anywhere from two and a half to three and a half years is going to be their payoff point,” he said.
But, one soccer coach in Seattle now thinks playing sports on a synthetic field could be giving kids cancer. She created a list of 34 soccer goalies that have gotten cancer – players that dive around on the surface every day.
“There's no proof yet that this definitely does it,” said Dr. Ravi Patel of the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center in Bakersfield. “It's a controversial area."
Patel said that “rubber crumbs” that these artificial athletic fields have could contain chemicals like Benzene, which is a known carcinogen.
The rubber is there to provide an extra amount of padding to protect against injuries, like concussions. Generally, the pellets come from ground up tires that would otherwise sit at a landfill.
“These minute particles start circulating in the air and either you can breathe it or inhale it,” said Patel. “Either it comes from the rubber itself or in the mixing process they'll end up with it.”
But, Swaim said his grass is safe, especially because it doesn’t contain those rubber pellets.
“We're certified for schools, playgrounds, day cares everything," he said. "We haven't used rubber infill in any of our products in eight or nine years."
"They used to take anything they could and stick it in there for cushion -- tennis shoes, tires, anything -- and it did not have a controlled environment," Swaim continued.
Even still, Swaim said that he expects plenty of schools to switch to artificial fields.
Kennedy High School in Delano already plays on turf, and Assistant Superintendent James Hay of the Delano Joint High School District said he has no reason to think that their student athletes are in any danger.
The athletic director at Bakersfield High School said artificial turf is one of the options they’re looking into.
“Before that is done, I think that it needs to be checked into,” said Patel, “and not by a single individual.
”One of the difficulties in proving this theory is the fact that every tire is different, and is made of different materials.
A group called the Synthetic Turf Council has a list of 14 studies on its website that it says proves artificial turf is safe.