By Stephanie Stahl
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Millions of people spend countless hours on fields made of artificial turf. But are they fields of danger? It’s where kids and students play all sorts of games and adults gather to watch. Now some local communities are taking action because of safety concerns.
They’re everywhere: beautiful and practical athletic fields covered with synthetic turf. Seemingly harmless, until kids like Teddy Shapiro and his family started asking questions. Teddy has cancer after a decade of playing soccer. “It’s a rare form of bone cancer, it’s called osteosarchoma. I couldn’t really move after the surgery the pain was intense,” Teddy explains. Teddy played goalie on artificial turf since he was eight-years-old.
In between the blades of fake grass, there are little pieces of recycled tires called crumb rubber. It makes fields softer, to reduce impact injuries. It’s supposed to be safer, but some say maybe not when you take a closer look.
Lab tests of crumb rubber from fields where Teddy played show it contained roughly 30 hazardous substances including lead.
The question many are asking: Can the chemicals on artificial turf fields cause cancer? One college soccer coach says yes, she has gathered information on at least 132 players who have cancer. This has many parents concerned including one who says, “I am angry that I’m being forced to make a choice between allowing my child to play a sport and or endangering his health.”
Maya van Rossum’s nine-year-old son plays lacrosse on crumb rubber. She’s worried because the tiny pieces get all over everything. “It’s right at the surface easily gets on clothing and there’s quick exposure to the body for kids to breathe in,” she says. She tried to stop Radnor Township from using crumb rubber, but was not successful. “We need to use the precautionary principle we need to not be allowing our kids to play on artificial turf until it’s proven safe. Not do it the opposite way and use our kids as the guinea pig for research,” says van Rossum.
Jim Mallon is the business administrator of Ocean City, New Jersey, where a contract to re-surface Carey Stadium with crumb rubber synthetic turf has been cancelled. “We have a lot of kids using this field we want to be absolutely sure that we were safe in putting a product like that down,” says Mallon.
The EPA says there has not been enough long term testing. “I think the frightening thing is that we just don’t have the information we need,” echoes Dr. Robert Cohen, who is a crumb rubber expert.
The synthetic turf council says there are almost 60 studies that show crumb rubber is safe.
“Obviously any amount of exposure to cancer causing agents is not desirable, but we live in a world where everybody is exposed to cancer causing agents every day,” says Dr. Arthur Frank, an environmental health expert at Drexel University.
That’s no comfort to Juli Shapiro, and her son Teddy. They say there are too many unanswered questions about crumb rubber, and they want more testing.
“We need to protect these kids. We need to rule out anything that can harm them,” Juli says. Until then, the worries and the games will continue.