University of Maryland Students Seeks Cancer Tests for Artificial Turf Fields

Published on November 23, 2016 by Laurie Villanueva

Students at the University of Maryland are concerned that athletes are being exposed to cancer-causing substances via artificial turf athletic fields. Earlier this month, the Student Government Association (SGA) passed a resolution that seeks to “encourage” the school’s administration to begin investigating the health affects potentially associated with synthetic turf made from crumb rubber.

Crumb rubber, also known as tire crumbs, is used as infill in many artificial turf athletic fields. The material is manufactured from recycled tires, and has been shown to contain trace amounts of lead and other chemicals.

The SGA passed the resolution by a vote of 22-4 with three abstentions. According to a report posted at dbknews.com, the resolution does not commit the university to any changes. Instead, the SGA will work to encourage the administration to test the school’s athletic fields for potential carcinogens, and to investigate the effects turf has on athletes’ health and whether other materials might be better alternatives.

“It’s important to note that this bill is not suggesting in any way that the university officially switch out all the artificial turf. We’re just investigating and looking into the problem,” Melanie Zheng, SGA director of health and wellness, told dbknews.com.

Artificial Turf and Cancer

In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a study to determine if artificial turf made with tire crumb posed a health hazard.  Though the study only looked at four synthetic playing fields, the agency concluded that the toxic chemicals contained in crumb rubber were of “low concern.” However, worries over crumb rubber and cancer have only grown since then. Earlier this year, the EPA decided to conduct a new investigation, after the agency determined that it could no longer stand by the findings of the 2009 study.

Several years ago, former top soccer player Amy Griffin became alarmed by a “stream of kids” who had become ill after playing soccer on artificial fields. Since 2009, she has identified at least 220 athletes who had been diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma after playing on athletic fields containing crumb rubber, including 102 soccer goalies. Goalies spend more time on the ground during play compared to their teammates, and are thus more likely to come into direct contact with crumb rubber.

“I am not making any claims about what is happening with these players,” Griffin recently told The Huffington Post. “But this problem isn’t fading. It’s going the other way.”

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