Study Finds No Evidence of Cancer Risk From Crumb Rubber; Board Looks for Alternative Infills

A long-awaited study from the Washington State Department of Health, released Wednesday, Jan. 19 found no evidence of higher cancer rates among athletes who play on crumb rubber fields and that “the currently available research on the health effects of artificial turf does not suggest that artificial turf presents a significant public health risk.”

The report was based on a study of soccer players on crumb rubber fields in Washington State, and was conducted by that state’s Department of Health and the University of Washington School of Public Health. It found that the athletes in the study had been diagnosed with cancer at a rate 2 percent below the general population average.

“Based on what we know today, the Washington State Department of Health recommends that people who enjoy soccer continue to play regardless of the type of field surface,” the Washington department of health concludes on its website.

“I do think that that Washington study is the one I’ve been waiting for,” said Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “It was in Washington that they thought they found the cluster, and this study has been going on for a very long time.”

[Read that study here.]

But supervisors are looking for alternative infills all the same.

“I think we need to begin to wrap this conversation up,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), who has pushed for research into alternative infills, particularly thermoplastic elastomer, or TPE. Whereas crumb rubber infill is made of recycled rubber such as from car tires, TPE is made from new material and has been used for years in sports fields.

Dulles Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R) and school board member Jeff Morse. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

“I am appreciative that this Washington State study came back, but I want to make it clear I think it’s worth looking at TPE in particular because it has a long track record,” Letourneau said. He has suggested that although TPE was previously more expensive than crumb rubber, costs may have come down, especially over the life of a field.

“Even if there aren’t any health concerns related to rubber crumb, there are still going to be issues related to the messiness, the maintenance, the fact that anybody whose kids play on this, you know they track it all over the place,” Letourneau said.

Supervisors voted unanimously to direct county staff to make a complete analysis of the Washington State Department of Health’s findings, as well as report back with pricing, playability, and reliability information about other types of infill.

Randall said the board is committed to installing some type of infill at those high schools that still have only natural grass fields.

“The commitment to having some type of infill product is important,” Randall said. “What type of infill product that may be at this point may rely mostly on cost.”

Supervisors hope to have enough information to make a decision within a month, enough time to program it for construction this summer. County staff are also watching for results from a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, although final results from that study may still be years away.

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