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Is artificial turf causing cancer in soccer players? The Washington State Department of Health and the University of Washington School of Public Health are investigating after a high incidence of cancer has been reported among young players.

The associate coach of the University of Washington’s women’s soccer team claims that 53 former and current players, mostly goalies, have developed the disease after joining the team. The school is alleging that the diagnoses are related to toxic chemicals in the artificial turf fields.

Researchers have found that the infill of the turf is composed of recycled tires, also known as crumb rubber, which contains toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer. Goalies are at particular risk because of their close exposure to the turf while protecting their goals.

The associate coach, Amy Griffin began keeping track of the number of her athletes that were diagnosed with cancer. She was shocked as the numbers grew. Most of the current and former players there are diagnosed with blood cancers, including leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The 53 University of Washington players make up one-eighth of the 237 soccer players worldwide who have also been diagnosed with cancer.

Griffin says you can see the little black dots that kick up from the turf during practice and games. “Goalkeepers get it in their sides, hips, elbows – abrasions from sliding on the turf. So if they have an open sore, not only the black dots but the dust particles that you can’t even see get in there,” Griffin claims.

While the studies in Washington State claim that there was no indication that the synthetic turf fields cause cancer, and that if you enjoy soccer you should continue to play, a similar study in Spain found that the chemicals were of a high enough concentration to be a “matter of regulatory concern”.

A substance called carbon black makes up 20 percent to 40 percent of the crumb rubber. California’s Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has identified it as a cancer-causing chemical. Griffin is currently working with Yale University to conduct additional research.

Dr. Vasilis Vasiliou, professor of epidemiology at Yale told CNN that more work needs to be done to determine whether or not these chemicals are getting into our children’s bloodstreams. “We need to know how safe it is for our kids to be playing on these fields,” he said.

It will be interesting to see if affected soccer players file a class action lawsuit in the future.

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