With the 2015 win of the USA women’s team in the World Cup, America’s attention was briefly on soccer once again. Not only were the sport of soccer and the women’s athleticism trending, but also the question of the benefits (or problems) with artificial turf.
FIFA accepted Canada’s bid to host the World Cup, even though Canada stipulated that all games would be played on artificial turf. No men’s World Cup has ever been held on anything but natural grass (Qatar is needing to go to great lengths to put in real grass for the upcoming men’s World Cup). The women playing in the World Cup tried to sue FIFA to change the playing fields to real grass; however, the women had to drop the case because FIFA had accepted the Canadian bid with the caveat in place. So the women proceeded to document all their injuries from the artificial turf – scrapes filled with little black pelts (crumb rubber made from recycled tires intended to offer cushion for athletes), burns on their feet and legs from the turf (heat on the field of play can easily be 30-60 degrees higher than the stadium – as someone who has artificial grass, I can attest to how hot it gets when the sun beats down on the plastic and rubber). But what if in addition to short-term injuries, they were looking at long-term issues like cancer?
The thought is that the artificial grass is eco-friendly. No water should be needed (one of the reasons we installed it since lawns are very thirsty); however, constant watering of the turf is needed to bring the down temperature on the field (as the Canadians discovered during the World Cup). The crumb rubber (which retains and radiates heat from the sun) was intended to provide cushion for athletes, but tires were not designed to be in close, constant contact with humans. They contain chemicals, including lead, that are being introduced into athletes’ blood stream – either ingested via mouth when it flies up during intense play or implanted in cuts. Goalies are the most susceptible since they are constantly sliding on the turf protecting the goal. Recently, studies point to a possible link between goalies and cancer.
So what to do? Had I realized the issues, I would not have installed the artificial turf with crumb rubber in my backyard. I don’t rip it out because the reality is that my kids aren’t playing on it a ton – it just provides a landing for the monkey bars….. But I will not let my son (who plays recreational soccer) play on artificial turf. FIFA doesn’t allow any of their “big” games to be played on turf (apparently, women’s World Cup isn’t considered as top-tier as the men’s World Cup by FIFA – Qatar was required to install real grass in order for their bid to be accepted). Unfortunately, the reality is that real grass (especially in drought stricken California) is not practical. Other surfaces are needed. Perhaps a bioengineered grass that doesn’t need as much water? Or a turf without crumb rubber? There currently aren’t great solutions, but there are too many questions to continue the use of crumb rubber where our children heavily play.