In fall of 2014, a news report came out that rocked the youth sports industry. Environmentalists and parents had assembled anecdotal evidence that suggested a link between artificial turf and cancer in the athletes who had played on it. In particular, the black crumb rubber used as infill was seen as containing traces of benzene, carbon black and lead.
At the time, it was news. Now, as kids gear up for spring sports, what has been the progress on the matter?
According to industry group the Synthetic Turf Council, studies conducted by scientists and state and federal agencies have proven that artificial turf is safe, according to NBC News. According to people who don’t put a lot of weight on the declarations of an industry group whose job it is to protect that industry’s interests, the jury is still out. Many scientists agree that there simply isn’t enough data to draw conclusions either way.
Currently, a California lawmaker is proposing a ban on artificial turf in schools, parks and stadiums, and she has a lot of parents on her side. It’s unclear, however, whether the legislation has enough support to pass.
“There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence from across the country,” state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, told the OC Register. “We have a responsibility to ensure that our children aren’t being harmed by materials used to make their fields. Right now, we just don’t know enough as far as how safe these fields are.”
In the end, it’s often not the evidence of safety of a product that matters, but a perception of its safety (or lack of it). The makers of artificial turf playing fields may wish to examine the case study of plastic additive Bisphenol-A, or BPA. Despite the plastic industry’s years of insistence that the chemical, which is a known endocrine disruptor, was safe for consumer products such as baby bottles, a movement of parents and health conscious individuals seeking BPA-free plastic essentially forced the industry to abandon the additive.