Although it may seem like a novel question, it is actually an old suspicion. The potential health risks posed by artificial turf football pitches are back in the headlines after years in the spotlight.
Indeed, the suspicion about the possible carcinogenic effect of soccer fields carpeted with rubber-based artificial grass dates back years. While this is environmentally friendly in terms of recycling, it may not be so in terms of public health . Specifically, for the players, especially the goalkeepers.
- Unhealthy recycling?
- Rubber powder
- What does science say?
- Is the alarm justified?
- Other negative effects
The advantages related to sustainability cannot be denied : the wheels of cars and other vehicles have a second life as part of this type of artificial grass, and we also save water and maintenance. In addition, compared to natural grass, it can mean savings but this does not mean that it is dangerous to consider.
The news has jumped as a result of the alarm raised in Holland by this type of artificial grass, made with recycled rubber as a base on which synthetic grass is embedded.
The dust that ends up in the air comes from the rubber . You breathe, it sticks to the body and skin, clothes, hair … Above all, it happens to goalkeepers. They are particles that are known as “tire dust” and come from styrene-butadiene rubber, the most currently marketed.
It is used to make automobile tires, among other uses, such as the one at hand. Basically, they are synthetic fibers that come from tires that are discarded. Its application on soccer fields, however, has raised suspicions about its possible carcinogenic risk.
Let’s go back to 2009. Amy Griffin, a soccer coach at the University of Washington spotted the problem when she visited two soccer goalies in the hospital who had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
During his visit, a nurse commented that he was the fourth doorman to be diagnosed with lymphoma that same week. On the other hand, the young athletes also attributed their disease to rubber.
They are not scientific evidence, no doubt, but the veteran coach began to suspect about it. In 2014, she recounted her experience in the media, explaining that during her first 15 years as a coach, she had not observed anything similar.
“I’ve been training for almost three decades, and suddenly it seems like there are countless children affected,” he said. On the other hand, since then he has been compiling a list of similar cases, reaching about 40 football players diagnosed with cancer, almost all goalkeepers.
On this occasion, related to the use of artificial grass for the practice of American football. But, in the same way, in many of the conventional soccer fields this type of coating is used.
What does science say?
There is still no causal relationship, but it is still being explored, as it is a potentially hazardous material . There is no doubt about that, since in it we find carcinogenic substances, such as benzene, carbon or lead. With the aggravation that it is used very often in colleges and soccer schools.
The positive part, in another order of things, is both the durability and its cushioning effect. Not only as a substitute for artificial turf to get a better game, but also to minimize blows that could lead to concussion.
However, it is also true that there are other substances that are equally beneficial in this regard, such as natural grass itself or perhaps the coconut fiber substrate. There would be alternatives, therefore.
Is the alarm justified?
Despite the suspicions, which have their specific weight, there is no study that has associated cancer with artificial turf. But at the same time, it must be clarified that very few studies have been carried out for this purpose.
Or what is the same. The potential hazard of this rubber dust made from old tires has not been sufficiently studied. And, of course, the next sector is ember to its sardine. According to The Synthetic Turf Council, a group that represents the artificial turf industry, its use is safe as the existing evidence does not allow to affirm otherwise.
Still, the reasons for alarm are still there. This week we learned that some thirty Dutch amateur football clubs have suspended their matches due to possible damage to health. At the same time, the Government is asked for an urgent investigation to clarify the matter.
If we speak of precaution, the justification is complete. Especially when the children are the ones who play. Not surprisingly, their immune systems are more immature and they are especially vulnerable. As always, the decision is ultimately ours.
Griffin would like science to confirm that he is wrong, but while he is waiting for time he does not believe that the cases are a sad coincidence . “I would love to be wrong,” she concludes. But until there are conclusive studies on the matter, being cautious is wise.
Other negative effects
This coating also poses an environmental problem . If we had pointed out that releasing a recyclable product was interesting or saving water, the same cannot be said for the overheating it causes.
Compared to natural grass, it can lead to an increase in temperatures of up to 10 degrees Celsius. The reason is the difference between vegetables that have a cooling effect and this synthetic material. In this sense, the result is similar to the effect caused by asphalt.
Its massive use does not help, precisely to stop cities being heat islands, which goes against municipal policies aimed at sustainability. Even so, if the fields are surrounded by green areas or simply some trees, temperatures can be mitigated.
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