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Youth Boys Oct 10, 2014

Does artificial turf cause cancer? NBC News’ alarming report

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Benzene. Methylene chloride. Xylene, acetone and styrene. Lead. Chromium. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Those are just a few of the volatile organic compounds and heavy metals found in crumb rubber, the tiny black bits of recycled tires that fill the gaps and provide the necessary cushion between synthetic blades of grass on the artificial-turf fields that host hundreds of thousands of soccer games across North America and beyond.

And they might just be putting young players, especially goalkeepers, at elevated risk of cancer.

+ READ: Hummer: How long until someone dies of heatstroke on a synthetic turf field?

That’s the conclusion from a startling, in-depth NBC News piece examining some unsettling patterns of cancer, particularly leukemia, lymphoma and similar disorders, among former youth and college soccer players – especially goalkeepers, who are more exposed to contact with crumb rubber thanks to the diving that their position requires.

Reporter Hannah Rappleye‘s investigation opens with a conversation with University of Washington women’s associate head coach Amy Griffin explaining the strange preponderance of cancer diagnoses she saw among her current and former goalkeepers, and from there delves into an analysis of the questions that will be on every soccer parent’s mind once they watch this segment:

Is modern synthetic turf a cancer risk? And why is hardly anyone doing scientific research in search of a firm answer?

While turf manufacturers and some government agencies say that extensive testing has shown no significant hazard from crumb rubber, there’s a disturbing lack of clear consensus, with the Environmental Protection Agency having essentially passed responsibility for making that judgment to states and local municipalities.

With turf fields having become ubiquitous across the U.S. and Canadian soccer scenes, this piece is required reading for just about anyone who plays, coaches or has a child in the beautiful game.