How worried should you be about artificial turf and your kids?
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
From after-school sports to your child's daycare playground, artificial grass has quickly become the preferred material surface for schools, sports fields and recreational parks because it is low maintenance and cost-efficient. Drought-resistance artificial turf can save homeowners, school boards and recreation departments from the costly expense of watering grass to keep it healthy and green.
While there may be huge monetary savings to be found in using artificial turf over real grass, one major component used to create the fields and playgrounds has some parents worried about the potential health hazards for children who spend a great deal of time on the playing surface.
Artificial turf is created with three main components.
- Backing material to hold the blades of artificial grass in place
- Individual blades of grass
- Infill to support the blades
It's the last component that is most troubling. Infill is made up of tiny bits of tire crumbs. These rubber crumbs can contain known cancer-causing chemicals such as heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and carbon black.
There are three points of contention about the artificial grass and the infill used to create it that have people asking for more studies to be done:
- On hot days, the infill can release gases that are breathed in by players.
- Players can ingest the tiny rubber particles.
- Infill can enter open wounds caused by abrasions through skin-to-turf contact.
Amy Griffin, associate head coach of the University of Washington women's soccer team, is among the voices calling for more studies to be conducted on turf infill and its link to cancer. She began to notice a rise cancer diagnoses among soccer goalies — players who must stay lower to the ground than their teammates.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Jordan Swarthout, a former goalkeeper in Sumner, Washington, who developed Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2013, recalled the bits of rubber that she tracked into her car, gym bag and even into her home after practicing or playing on the artificial turf. What's more, she distinctly remembers the pungent smell of the turf, which has been compared to that of burning rubber in the past.
Swathout was among a number of women soccer players who had developed cancer in Washington. The Washington State Department of Health conducted a study on these women with cancer and published a report.
According to the Washington Post, the report states that it found "no evidence of a causal effect of playing on artificial turf and cancer. As they acknowledge, that does not mean there is no risk, only that this study did not find one. They also suggested there is still room for broader investigation on this question."
While there are strong opinions on both sides of the argument considering whether it is safe for children to play on artificial turf, some parents have decided that the advantages of saving money from the drought-resistant artificial turf do not outweigh the potential causes and harms that might be done to a child exposed to infill.
As scientists look into more studies on the potential link between cancer and artificial grass, the trend in utilizing the cost-efficient playing surface has shown no sign of slowing down. This leaves parents with the choice to allow their children to play at their own risk or avoid after-school field sports and playgrounds.
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