Officials in Massachusetts, a state in which several communities have been in the artificial turf crosshairs, recently reiterated their defense of turf as it relates to the safety of materials used in the crumb rubber infill and turf fibers.
“The scientific literature continues to suggest that exposure opportunities to artificial turf fields are not generally expected to result in health effects,” Suzanne K. Condon, director of the commonwealth’s Bureau of Environmental Health, concluded in an eight-page letter dated March 23, 2015. “Testing results on the crumb rubber infill indicated lead content less than CPSIA [Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act] statutory limits established for children’s products.”
Condon’s response was precipitated by a request from the local board of health in Medway, Mass., to evaluate health concerns raised by the presence of turf fields in that town of 13,000 residents. A report on NBC News last fall attempted to link cancer diagnoses (mostly lymphoma and leukemia) among 34 soccer goalies to turf infill. Specifically, Medway officials were deliberating whether to post warning signs near the fields to inform participants of potential risks.
This is not the first time the state’s BEH has responded to community leaders worried about the health ramifications of artificial turf. In fact, it’s done so at least three other times, in a series of letters from 2008, 2011 and 2013 regarding concerns in the Town of Needham. In that case, the town hired an environmental testing firm to take air measurements of volatile organic compounds and heavy metals, and found no exposure to health risks. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health/Bureau of Environmental Health’s own review echoed that conclusion.
“Our previous evaluations noted that crumb rubber infill has been found to contain chemicals, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and metals,” Condon wrote in BEH’s letter to Medway Board of Health. “We further stated that although these chemicals are in the material itself, information available at that time did not suggest significant exposure opportunities to the chemicals in the materials such that we would expect health effects.”
She cited new and relevant research from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment that suggests adverse health effects were unlikely to occur from inhalation of VOCs or metals in particulates above turf fields. A similar study in Connecticut yielded the same results. California researchers also detected less incidents of bacteria on turf than on natural grass — which could indicate that risk of infection is actually lower on turf than on grass.
Finally, Condon’s letter provided additional information on cancers and known risk factors for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and osteosarcoma — stating that “some recent news reports suggested that the incidence of cancers among soccer players, particularly goaltenders exposed to artificial turf, might be atypical” and stressing “it is important to note that the reports of cancers were of a wide variety of different types, each with its own set of risk factors.”
The MDPH/BEH also consulted the Massachusetts Cancer Registry to evaluate the specific incidence of cancer in Medway and found that “no diagnoses of Hodgkin lymphoma, NHL or osteosarcoma have been reported to the MCR” between 2006 and 2014.
“The fact that there are no reports of such cancers is reassuring,” Condon wrote near the conclusion of her letter, which also included an offer by the MDPH/BEH to assist Medway officials in a testing and evaluation manner similar to the one in which it assisted the Town of Needham.