By Briana Vannozzi
Even before recent media reports started highlighting the potential health risks associated with synthetic turf, Shaniqua Hailey says she was always a skeptic.
“It’s a big safety concern. It makes you think twice,” she said.
The concern is over whether there is a link to cancer. For parents at one Elizabeth park, there aren’t many alternatives. Grass parks are being phased out.
“Another concern I have is, you know, she has eczema really bad and this stuff is not natural, it’s not, you know, it can hurt her skin and she can’t choke on anything,” Hailey said.
The debate is dividing parents, environmental groups and bureaucrats alike, prompting Congressman Frank Pallone to act.
“I asked the health agency within the CDC called ATSDR [Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry] to do a more thorough investigation of the impact of the crumb rubber and whether there is a link between crumb rubber used in artificial turf and if there is a relationship with blood cancer,” he said.
These crumb rubber balls are used to cushion the surface. They’re made from styrene butadiene, also known as crushed up car tires. They can contain traces of benzene, carbon black and even lead dust. Parents say their kids end up being covered in them, breathing it in and even swallowing it.
The Synthetic Turf Council has been quick to defend the materials.
“The Synthetic Turf Council (STC) and the synthetic turf industry take the health, safety and welfare of synthetic turf users very seriously,” read a statement.
“During the past two decades, there have been more than 60 technical studies and reports that review the health effects of crumb rubber as it pertains to toxicities from inhalation, ingestion and dermal contact, as well as cancer. The preponderance of evidence shows no negative health effects associated with crumb rubber in synthetic turf.”
According to a spokesperson for Union County, there are more than 8,000 turf fields across North America, including well over 50 that were built in just the last two years in New Jersey.
“Many high schools in Union County now play extensively on turf fields. Presently we are not aware of any scientific studies or peer reviewed reports that show a direct link to cancer associated with these fields… Nevertheless, the county of Union is aware of the media reports raising concerns about turf fields as we are sensitive to the health of our children and adolescents,” said the spokesperson.
Off camera NJTV News was told anecdotally about respiratory issues from the outgassing of such fields. One soccer coach told us his doctor recommended he stay away. Several of the doctors we reached out to were reluctant to go on the record because of a lack of scientific evidence.
For now, doctors say the use of these fields is safe, until more conclusive evidence comes out in either way.