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How Safe Is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On?

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Football coach Amy Griffin visited a young goalkeeper in a Seattle hospital. She was undergoing chemotherapy when a nurse said something that made the hair on Griffin’s neck stand upright. .

That was 2009. Two young female goalkeepers, Griffin, knew they had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Griffin, the deputy head coach of the University of Washington Women's Football Team, has begun visiting women and other athletes in the local hospital, helping them through the chemistry story of her coaching war stories for the past three decades.

That day, the nurse looked down at the woman with Griffin sitting with and said, "Don't tell me, you are the goalkeeper. You are the fourth goalkeeper I contacted this week."

Later, the young woman with a chemical needle would say: "I just think it has something to do with the black spots."

From high schools to multi-million dollar sports venues, artificial turf fields are now everywhere in the United States. As any parent or player present can testify, tiny black rubber crumbs made from fields-large pieces of old tires-can be seen everywhere. Wear a player's uniform, hair, and cleats.

But for those goalkeepers who are in regular contact with the lawn, the situation may be worse. In practice and competition, they conducted hundreds of dives, and every time they dived, they scattered a cloud of black tire particles into the air. The particles get into their cuts and scratches and into their mouths. Griffin wanted to know whether those debris (known to contain carcinogens and chemicals) made athletes uncomfortable.

She said: "I have been coaching for 26 or 27 years." "In my first 15 years, I have never heard anything about this. Suddenly it seemed to be a group of children."

Since then, Griffin has compiled a list of 38 American football players-34 of which are goalkeepers

People who have been diagnosed with cancer. At least a dozen have played games in Washington, but they are geographically distributed across the country. Blood cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia dominate.

There are no studies linking cancer to artificial turf. Griffin collected names through personal experience with sick players and admitted that her list is not a scientific data set. But this is enough to make her ask, is a kind of artificial rubber turf introduced in thousands of parks, playgrounds, schools and gymnasiums in the United States safe for athletes and children playing on it? Others across the country have also raised similar questions, believing that materials made from synthetic fibers and scrap tires have not been fully tested. Such materials may contain benzene, carbon black, lead, and other substances. For example, few studies have measured the risk of oral ingestion of crushed gum.

NBC's own extensive investigations, including reviews of relevant research and interviews with scientists and industry experts, failed to reach any agreement on whether bread crumb turf had an adverse effect on young athletes, or even whether the product was fully tested.

The Synthetic Turf Committee, an industry organization, said that so far, scientists, state and federal agencies have collected evidence that artificial turf is safe.

Dr. Davis Lee, a member of the Turfgrass Council, said: “We have conducted 14 studies on our website and the results show that we have no negative effects on health.” He added that although these studies are not “absolute conclusions” "Sexual", but so far, there must be a lot of evidence that it is actually safe. "

Environmental advocates hope that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission will observe carefully. Both CPSC and EPA conducted research five years ago, but both organizations have recently reviewed their guarantees on material safety, saying that their research is "limited." However, although the EPA told NBC News in a statement that "more tests are needed," the agency also stated that it considers artificial turf to be a "national and local decision" and therefore will not commission further research.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of the environmental monitoring organization PEER, said: "People have raised a lot of concerns." PEER has complained to two agencies. "It has not yet risen to the level of regulatory interest."

The EPA rejected multiple interview requests from NBC News and declined to expand its statement that "more tests are needed."

Monsanto invented artificial turf in 1964, and the first artificial turf was nothing more than artificial turf laid on concrete. This product was originally called "ChemGrass", and after being installed in Houston's Astrodome in 1966, it became known as "AstroTurf". However, some athletes complain that this thin and synthetic surface is difficult to land on hard.

By the early 2000s, a better form of artificial turf appeared. This new turf is called styrene butadiene rubber or "crumb rubber," which contains small black chips made from crushed car tires, which are poured between fake grass blades. The rubber padding makes the field more elastic, reduces the impact on athletes, and helps prevent serious injuries such as concussions.

Since then, this material has become more and more popular. Municipalities across the country have issued millions of dollars in bonds to pay for the new oil fields. Local leaders, some facility managers and companies stated that the maintenance cost of turf is lower than that of natural turf and can withstand large amounts of use throughout the year.

"There are benefits here. The potential risks we know today are very low."

According to the Synthetic Turf Council, there are more than 11,000 artificial turf stadiums in use in the United States today, most of which are broken rubber. Crumb rubber fillings are also used in children's playgrounds across the country.

Dan Zilinsky, spokesperson for the Rubber Manufacturers Association, said that rubber crumbs are "an environmental success story."

Zilinsky said that not only did turf farms move millions of tires from landfills, but they didn't require fertilizers or pesticides and could save municipalities hundreds of thousands of gallons of water each year.

"It's good here," Zilinsky said. "As we know today, the potential risk is very low."

Jordan Swarthout, 22, started playing football at the age of 4. She became a goalkeeper at the age of 9 and has become addicted to the "adrenaline impulse" that occurs every time the ball pierces the net line.

By the age of 11, Swarthout grew up in Sumner, Washington, about 45 minutes south of Seattle, playing almost entirely on rubber scraps.

When she and her team asked about things on the lawn, "used tires" were the best answer she got. She said: "We always wanted to know what's under it." "What we can't see."

But the smell of hanging on the crumb rubber field-the smell of tires roasting in the sun-is like Swarthout, like her endless goalkeeper training.

When she and her teammates called them, she was even used to "turf bugs."

During high school, she participated in multiple team competitions at once, practiced two hours a week, five days a week, and played at least twice a week. Every day, she tried to remove the black rubber particles, "turf bugs" that were produced from the scratches and burns she suffered on the lawn as a goalkeeper. Every day, because of her mother's dissatisfaction, she shook them from the clothes and cleats to the floor of the laundry room. She brushed her hair, then vomited out of her mouth.

"Little black beads," she said. "During games and practice, they get into my eyes, they get into my mouth, they get into my nose. My mother will get angry with me because I have to take a shower in the bathroom, and turf bugs are everywhere."

Suzie Swarthout, Jordan's mother, said her daughter may have swallowed hundreds of tire crumbs a year.

However, neither Jordan nor Susie worried much about this. Suzie said: "We are all confident that the appropriate steps have been taken, research has been conducted, and it has been proven safe."

Jordan said: "We all know how bad tires are." "You don't eat tires. But we used to be. You will put it in your mouth, and then you won't think about it."

In 2013, after more than a year of mysterious thyroid problems, a biopsy confirmed that the star athlete had stage III Hodgkin's lymphoma.

It was a night in May last year. A few months later, the doctor announced her daughter’s release. Suzie Swarthout saw the story of Amy Griffin.


"After the news broadcast was emailed to [Amy], I immediately said: "You can add another topic to the statistics," Suzie recalled.

Griffin said that since she started collecting the names of goalkeepers with cancer and other diseases, she has made contact with people like Swarthouts, and her list has grown.

Griffin and Swarthouts said they knew it was almost impossible to figure out the origin of diseases such as cancer, and that young people were exposed to hundreds of carcinogens.

But Jordan Swarthout said: "If we can use it for research, why not? Why can't we?"

One of the problems in studying the potential health hazards in the field of crushed rubber is the wide variety of materials used in products.

Thousands of different tires from different brands may be used in one field.

Mercury, lead, benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and arsenic were found in tires, as well as several other chemicals, heavy metals and carcinogens.

Darren Gill, vice president of marketing for the well-known turf company FieldTurf, said that these ingredients may cause consumers to worry, but the manufacturing process can ensure the safety of their products.

Gil said: "If you look at the ingredients in car tires, someone will turn these ingredients into health concerns." "But after the vulcanization process, those ingredients are inert."

Industry leaders say that although they encourage more research, studies have shown that the levels of substances found in crumb rubber are not high enough to pose a danger to children or athletes.

Li of the Synthetic Turf Council said: "Of course, like many other aspects, [turf] has very little chemical content." "You can evaluate almost all materials, and to some extent you will find that it may cause concern. Some kind of chemical substance."

He added: "The level in tires and ground tires is very low." "The EPA has not yet discovered adverse health effects. Several state organizations have conducted thorough investigations into it."

Existing research has attempted to measure the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals through inhalation of gas and particulate matter and skin contact.

The study found that the crumb rubber field emits breathable gas. The turf field can become very hot-10 to 15 degrees above the ambient temperature-increasing the chance of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and chemicals "ejecting" or penetrating into the air.

The concentration of VOC and chemical substances in the air was measured in the field. In addition to volatile organic compounds such as benzene and methylene chloride, researchers have also discovered various polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).

The report concluded that “the use of outdoor and indoor artificial turf fields does not increase health risks”, but more research is needed to better understand the chemical exposure of outdoor fields on hot weekends and indoor facilities, which indicates higher Health level. Chemical substances in the air.

Other studies have also investigated whether the runoff of crushed rubber turf is harmful to aquatic organisms, or whether the damage rate of turf is lower than that of natural turf.

Few studies have focused on problems unique to goalkeepers-whether it is ingesting particles through the mouth or absorbing them into the body through cuts and abrasions is dangerous.

Although many studies have concluded that there are no serious health risks in the area studied, they usually add a warning that more research should be done.

Said Joel Forman, associate professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at New York Hill. In all these studies, there are data gaps in Sinai Hospital, so it is difficult to draw clear conclusions.

"No studies are long-term. They rarely involve very young children. They only look for the concentration of the chemical substance and compare it to some acceptable standard," said Dr. Forman. "This does not really consider subclinical effects, long-term effects, brain development and child development."

Forman said that it is well known that certain compounds found in tires may be related to minor neurodevelopmental problems in children "even under long-term low exposure levels." He said: "Those are always suspicious."

Dr. Foreman said: "If you never learn anything, you can always say,'There is no evidence that there is a problem,' but that's because you haven't read it. It's hard to see."

He concluded: "I hope to see more research."

However, it is unlikely that further research will be conducted by a federal agency.

In 2008, tests conducted in New Jersey found lead on three artificial turf fields. The result has stimulated media coverage and attention across the country.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the federal agency responsible for regulating consumer products, tested turf samples. Although the test detected lead in artificial grass blades,

In the same year, an official from the EPA Regional Office wrote to the three agency offices in DC, including the Office of Child Health Protection, and recommended that EPA conduct extensive testing.

. The official wrote: “My staff has reviewed public studies on the safety of fetal debris and found information that children’s repeated exposure to fetal debris may be harmful to their health. However, there is insufficient data to quantify tire debris. Toxicological risks caused by exposure to crumbs."

Soon after

From two artificial turf fields and one playground. The agency reported that the concentration of volatile organic compounds and other chemicals found by researchers showed "low concern", but it announced that due to the "very limited nature" of this study and the diversity of breadcrumb materials, " It is impossible to draw a more comprehensive conclusion without considering other data."

Although the industry cited two studies as evidence of the safety of rubber crumbs, in response to PEER's complaints, both CPSC and EPA announced their limited scope of research last year. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission wrote in a press release: "Exposure assessment does not include chemicals or other toxic metals other than lead."

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the agency has been working with the industry to develop voluntary standards for lead content since the initial testing.

EPA rejected repeated interview requests from NBC News. It said in a statement that the agency “does not believe that the collected field monitoring data provides evidence that the use of recycled tyre scraps in playgrounds or artificial turf sports fields leads to increased health risks.”

The agency said in a separate statement: "The agency believes that more testing is needed, but at present, the decision to use tire crumbs is still a state and local decision."

When NBC News first contacted the EPA in 2013, the agency’s spokesperson Enesta Jones said that after meeting with state and federal officials in 2010, “EPA did not consider this a problem.”

The agency has no plans to conduct further research, but is currently studying "abstracts" of available research.

Others across the country said that their question about the crumb rubber skin is still unanswered.

Some cities have chosen to scrap rubber skins to replace fillers. The New York City Parks Department stopped the installation of crumb rubber turf in 2008 and was installed by the Los Angeles Unified School District the following year.

In Maryland, a company named

Has been opposed to a bill that will allocate state funds to build artificial turf fields. The organization has also been working hard to advance legislation that requires warning signs to be placed around artificial turf fields.

For at least four years, citizens and advocacy groups that care about crumb rubber have been working with

Earlier this year, a judge dismissed the city’s lawsuit, which claimed that the city’s environmental impact report did not disclose the risks associated with turf, thus violating California law. The case is currently under appeal. In the upcoming general election, two turf-related propositions are being voted on. One will prohibit the city from installing sites in Golden Gate Park, and the other will give the city’s parks and entertainment departments more freedom to install similar projects.

Those who care about turf recommend using alternative fillers such as coconut fiber and cork in artificial fields, or prohibiting young children or other young children from using rubber crumbs in fields and playgrounds.

An environmental team leader called the Center for Environmental Health (CEH)

In California, in violation of Proposition 65, state law prohibits companies from deliberately exposing consumers to certain chemicals and heavy metals (such as lead) without a clear warning. In a series of settlement agreements, the two companies agreed to reduce the lead content in products sold in California and agreed to replace fields under certain conditions.

CEH research director Caroline Cox (Caroline Cox) said that although the crumb rubber turf has not been clearly determined to be harmful, the surface still contains known harmful chemicals.

"We know they are there," Cox said. "The point is, let us choose better alternatives, instead of spending years and millions of dollars to build the hazard. If there is a better way to do this, then do it."

Dr. Joel Furman said: "There are many real risks and many real benefits in the turf field." "Each community... has to weigh different risks and benefits."

When Amy Griffin first started using turf (her team practiced turf all year round), she thought it was a "win-win".

Now, her team collects paper cup crumb rubber on each venue where they play and gives it to her so that she can ship the pellets to the laboratory to be tested.

Griffin said: "I'm looking for answers because I'm not smart enough to come up with these answers alone." "I hope someone will say,'We have done some tests and we cover all the basics.... Yes, it's safe. . That would be awesome... I would love to prove myself wrong."

Rappleye is a reporter for the NBC News Investigation Team, covering immigration, criminal justice and human rights issues.

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