Medical Advisory Committee Position on Crumb Rubber in Turf

Medical Advisory Committee Position on Crumb Rubber in Turf

Seattle United is aware of recent media reports identifying a number of young goal keepers with cancer and linking that to crumb rubber in synthetic turf fields. The Seattle United Medical Advisory Committee has reviewed this story and what follows are the thoughts of the Committee:

We recognize a report like this can be anxiety-provoking for parents of any athlete in the city of Seattle where so many of our fields use third generation artificial surface or synthetic turf. It is useful to review what we know and what we don’t know.

We know that cancer unfortunately affects a small number of children each year. We know that there are some goalies that have been diagnosed with cancer. We know that some of their field exposure was on synthetic turf. However, WE HAVE NO EVIDENCE THAT THE TURF EXPOSURE IS LINKED TO OR CAUSES CANCER. This is an example of a correlation of two factors: playing goalie on turf, and having cancer, with no ‘proof of causation’ (that the two factors are related or one causes the other).

It may be useful in this situation to consider other estimates of cancer risk in children. According to the National Cancer Institute, the estimated incidence of childhood cancer (ages 0 to 14 years) in the US is 2-3 per 10,000 children, or 0.02% to 0.03%.

The story identifies 38 players (34 goalies) nationwide with cancer out of an estimated 4 million youth soccer players (3 million registered with US Youth Soccer alone). Assuming that youth soccer players get cancer at the same rate as the general population of children, we might expect up to 800-1200 soccer players with cancer. If 1 in 11 are goalies, then >70 goalies playing soccer in the US may get cancer. NBC news reported 34 goalies with cancer, but this might actually be lower or within the expected range of cancer in this age group.

The bottom line is that there is no evidence that synthetic fields in Seattle or any other fields are causing cancer. The fields are used heavily by a variety of athletes including football players that spend a lot of time, similar to goalies, rolling around on the turf, and many have asked why these athletes have not been reported to have a similar problem. There may be things in the turf that are worth washing off after a training session and this is a good idea for all the players, especially goalies who spend more time on the turf.

The Seattle United Staff, Board and the Seattle United Medical Advisory Committee are committed to ensuring the safety of our players. We take all potential player safety issues seriously. We will continue to follow this issue for any updates, new research, or new information but at this point we see no reason to avoid 3rd generation turf fields.

-Seattle United Medical Advisory Committee