Questions to ask after E:60 turf story

Let me toss in some disclaimers at the beginning:

  1. I worry about everything.
  2. I’m a big fan of Julie Foudy, and I’m glad ESPN has put her to work in ways that take advantage of her soccer expertise, her advocacy, and her inquisitive nature.
  3. I’m not a big fan of the E:60 production style. The fake newsroom meeting to introduce each segment. The ominous music.

TV is a difficult medium for investigative journalism. You can’t broadcast a spreadsheet. Compare the E:60 piece on artificial turf with Bloody Elbow’s investigation of UFC finances. Which one is more in depth?

So my biggest disappointments with the E:60 story are these:

  1. Where’s the accompanying web piece? ESPN’s E:60 page is woefully out of date. The only thing I found on the ESPN home page was “E:60 excerpt.”
  2. The piece devoted 44 seconds to someone who has actually studied the issue, Gary Ginsberg. One man’s tragic illness and death got much more than that.

And yet, there’s something here worth pursuing. The E:60 piece may keep the ball rolling, as prior reports by NBC and others have done.

The truth about turf is likely somewhere in the large space between “absolutely harmless – let your kids eat the pellets by the handful” and “do not ever, ever play on it.” It was interesting to see Amy Griffin, who has been compiling a long list of soccer players with cancer, still leading her team in practice on a turf field on a sunny day in which you’d think a nearby grass field would be OK.

Griffin’s no hypocrite, and she doesn’t deserve the backlash she’s been getting. I get the sense that she actually sees this as something other than a binary issue. And no one can blame her for raising the concerns that she has.

And even the Ginsberg study suggested that we may need some safe-handling measures when it comes to playing on turf — just as we would for kids playing on grass that’s been recently fertilized. (Or, in the case of Northern Virginia fields in November, recently covered in goose poop.)

Check the Ginsberg abstract:

Based upon these findings, outdoor and indoor synthetic turf fields are not associated with elevated adverse health risks. However, it would be prudent for building operators to provide adequate ventilation to prevent a buildup of rubber-related volatile organic chemicals (VOC) and SVOC at indoor fields.

“Wait, wait,” you may be saying. “If it’s harmless, why ventilate?”

Because the study doesn’t show that crumb rubber pellets are harmless in large quantities. Yes, there are materials in those pellets that could be harmful if you had enough exposure to them. (Hate to tell you this — but that’s also true of stuff in your food. Look up how much nasty stuff is allowed to be in your food as long as the quantities are small enough. We’re talking maggots in your mushrooms.)

These are old tires. You put tires on your car. You may even change your own tires, and you probably don’t think you’re going to get cancer from it. You should probably wash your hands, though, after you change them.

So future study, in academia and the media, should be geared toward ensuring we keep a safe level of exposure.

Which leads to some questions worth pursuing:

  1. Should we set a temperature limit on turf fields, both for possible airborne exposure to chemicals and so players don’t collapse from the heat?
  2. Should goalkeeper training, where goalkeepers spend much more time with their faces on the field than they do in games, be held on grass as much as possible?
  3. Can we educate parents and kids so kids aren’t building little mounds of pellets and then eating a snack without washing their hands? (That should apply to grass, too. Again — fertilizer and poop. We forget basic hygiene too often.)
  4. Why goalkeepers and not football players who spend even more time rolling around on this stuff? Is it just because they’re wearing mouthpieces? Do running backs and linemen never get this stuff on their faces?
  5. How does the rate of illness among young soccer players compare with the rate of the general population?
  6. And finally — how many of Amy Griffin’s names are in Washington state? Is there something in particular about some turf installations in that area?

So I’m not pulling my kids off their turf fields. I’m also not totally banning hot dogs in our household — just limiting them. But I will have them wash up, and I’m curious to see what future studies say.

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2 thoughts on “Questions to ask after E:60 turf story

  1. Good thoughts. I’ve been on turf fields on a windless, brutally hot, Midwestern day and it can smell like a tire factory. That can’t be good. Those turf fields are artificially hot anyway. Maybe some sort of cooling system (reverse of heating systems) could keep the material stable so that it’s not gassing off strange compounds. Yeah, that might increase the cost, but…

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