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The Question We Should Be Asking About Our Proposed Athletic Facilities

During the debate over the school bond this Fall, questions over athletic facilities kept coming up. Should we spend $10 million on a field house? Is Kearns the right place for a field house? Is Basin Rec going to build a field house at Silver Creek? Who should pay for it? Can our governmental agencies partner together?

Yet, perhaps the question we should be asking is should we should be building indoor field houses at all.

Over the past few years, University of Washington Soccer Coach Amy Griffin has spearheaded an effort to better understand the impact of artificial turf fields on our kids. Her efforts began in 2009 when she started visiting two young female soccer players Griffin knew had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. When she was there helping the women pass time in chemo, a nurse said to the two girls, “Don’t tell me you guys are goalkeepers. You’re the fourth goalkeeper I’ve hooked up this week.” According to a 2014 NBC News report, “Griffin has compiled a list of 38 American soccer players — 34 of them goalies – who have been diagnosed with cancer.” With further research during the past year, MS. Griffin’s list of athletes with cancer that may have been caused by turf fields has reached 200 names, according to ESPN.

It seems that the issue may be those little black crumbs, made from ground up tires, that are used in artificial field turf. The worry is that since many ingredients in tires are carcinogenic, these crumbs likely also contain carcinogenic materials. The field turf industry has done various studies around inhalation of crumbs, but according to news reports there have yet to be studies done on ingestion of these tire crumbs or what happens if they come into contact with cuts and abrasions on the skin.

I don’t have soccer age children but my little ones do go to many birthday parties and “open play” on the field at Basin Rec. Every time their hands and feet come back in a shade of black — likely from rubbing against the little crumbs of tires in the fake grass. I now ask myself, “did I in effect just let my kid play on a pile of ground up tires for 2 hours?” I then think to all our kids playing on our turf fields, and wonder what they will experience. Even more, I wonder with the number of athletic of children in our community, what’s the impact on our children going to be after playing on turf fields for 18 years? Will this end up being like smoking.

One of the interesting parts of these reports is how tires started being used on field turf in the first place. It appears the EPA was searching for a use for discarded tires so they didn’t go into our landfills. They came up with the idea of recycling them and putting them on fields.

I don’t mean to be alarmist and I know the research isn’t conclusive, but it seems anecdotally that we should at least proceed with caution. The State of California is now studying the issue and will likely have results in 2-3 years. The state of Washington is now comparing lists of soccer players who have been diagnosed with cancer are at rates higher than the general population. Those results will be out in 2016.

During the debate over school athletic facilities, we heard many people say how horrible it was that our kids had to practice outside in cold and snowy conditions. If the alternative is the likely ingestion of Benzothiazole, Butylated hydroxyanisole, n-hexadecane, and 4-(t-octyl) phenol, I just might prefer my kid to get a little cold. I know there are parents out there who will say, “but how is my kid supposed to practice lacrosse, if they can’t play inside on a turf field?” I don’t have a good answer for that, except to say that if fields turn out to be cancerous then maybe your kid shouldn’t be practicing on them. Of course, that’s you and your child’s choice.

From a governmental perspective, I hope that our leaders at least pause to wait for more research to be done on the topic before adding more synthetic turf fields to our community. Hopefully unbiased studies will confirm that the fields are safe and my kids can go back to crawling around the Basin Rec field and your daughter can play goalie without you worrying whether every time she dives to stop a ball that she is eating ground up tires. However, to proceed with building more fields, until more research is done, would seem reckless on our government’s part.

If you’d like more information on the topic, please watch this video from ESPN’s E:60:


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A reader sent in an email with the following link to a school that paid a bit more to use recycled Nike Shoes for the crumbs in turf. If the science bears out an issue with tire crumbs, this looks like an interesting alternative:

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