Urgent Need to Research Possible Link Between Artificial Turf Crumb Rubber and Cancer

Excerpt of speech by Amy Griffin, associate head coach at the University of Washington, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus

Amy Griffin, associate head coach at the University of Washington, has worked with the same demographic of students for 24 years. She never knew a soccer player who had cancer until 2009. What began as a list of two goalkeepers with cancer that year has now grown to a list of 260 players from various sports, but most are soccer players — and goalkeepers make up 59 percent of the total.
Although Griffin acknowledges that correlation is not causation, the rising incidence of cancers has occurred as more and more athletic playing fields of natural grass have been replaced with artificial turf fields made of crumb rubber infill, produced from ground-up recycled tires. Goalkeepers, among all soccer players, have the most contact with the crumb rubber.  
In early February, Griffin, an award-winning soccer coach, spoke at a forum sponsored by the Yale University School of Public Health. She shared with the audience data she’s collected on the incidence of cancer among players she’s coached over the years.  Recognizing that while she is not a scientist, Griffin is urging the scientific and public health community to thoroughly research the possible link between artificial turf fields made of crumb rubber and cancer.

AMY GRIFFIN: The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) – they’re in charge of keeping us safe from environmental factors. They are the ones who said, You know what? These tires are toxic, so you can’t throw ’em away and you can’t bury ’em and you can’t burn ’em. You can’t! It’s illegal. We’re going to have a tax on these tires so that we can afford to collect them in a safe way and get them out of the environment and make sure you don’t do anything stupid with them. We’ll keep them for you.

But that added another problem onto their list. What do you think happened to all the places where they were collecting them? They were overflowing with tires. They had no place to put these really unsafe, really toxic, dangerous things. So they ended up sponsoring the growth of crumb rubber to solve their waste challenge. So the government actually subsidizes communities that use crumb rubber fields. So in the state of California five years ago, $6.1 million went to “help” the parks and recreational facilities in California, because it was helping their waste problem, right? It was getting these things, recycling these tires and breaking them up into millions of pieces and getting them out in our communities, so our kids are playing on trash.

And then there’s the RCRA law – the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. And basically it’s in charge of all these great and wonderful things – reducing the amount of waste generated and making sure that we manage our waste in environmentally safe and sound ways. So there’s that law, which is why you couldn’t take a tire out, because it’s toxic waste, but what’s not regulated is if you turn it into a different product. So if you turn it into a different product, and it’s no longer a tire, it doesn’t follow the same regulations. So then what’s crazy is they have very short life spans, so these fields are like, “wait, they have to be hauled back into the dump, because these fields only last six to ten years.” So now they’re stuck with the same problem they had to begin with, only worse, because now they’re chopped up into millions of little pieces. And there’s no net waste gain. Five percent of these fields every year disappear into the waterways and into our shoes. Now the chemical leaching from fields, the EPA doesn’t treat it as a point source, so therefore it’s not monitored, so the runoff just goes into your rivers and your lakes and your coasts, basically, and there’s no regulation as to where it’s disposed.

So my list of athletes continued to grow. So at nine I started writing it on a yellow note back, and the list grew to 35, grew to 50, grew to 75 and as of a couple of days ago it’s at 260. Remember, in order to get on this list you have to have seen a story, read an article, taken the time to find my name and number and then get on the list. Anecdotal – it’s just a list. It’s my research. I haven’t ever deleted anyone from my list, so some of them play other sports. We’re now at 119 goalkeepers, and that’s 59 percent of the people on my list. That percentage has always been between 59 and 61 percent. It has never changed as the numbers have grown.

So what does the data show? In my mind, that data shows absolutely nothing. That’s why you guys are here; that’s why you guys are listening. I know correlation does not equal causation; I have learned that. So I’ve got these numbers; some of them are red flags to me. There’s some things that make me really, really concerned. Three of the Hodgkins’ lymphoma were diagnosed at 14 and they were diagnosed at Stage 4, which apparently is really, really rare. And these are the blood-related cancers, which I’ve been told have been tied to an environmental association of some sort or another. And these are some of the others on my list; the median age for thyroid cancer is 39, according to the American Cancer Society. Diagnosed between the ages of 0 to 20: there’s a chance that happens 1.9 percent, and 10 of the 11 were diagnosed between the ages of 16 and 26. Also the ovarian cancer I think is very concerning, that the ages of 14, 15, 23 and 24 – very rare in people under the age of 40; the median age is 63.

And then the lung cancer – 100 percent of them goalkeepers, all three diagnosed at the age of 19, 26 and 27. None of them were smokers.

That’s the data everyone is talking about. The reason I think this has become a story and the reason I think I’m here is that for every statistic and scientists and toxicologists are working on, I have a human face to attach to this, and it’s these people’s stories, and their deaths, and their concerns that have made this very interesting.


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