2 Investigators: Crumb Rubber Turf Could Pose Cancer Risk

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(CBS) — A type of artificial turf designed to help protect league athletes from injuries, may instead be putting them at risk of cancer. CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini did some testing of the turf being used by kids, teens and adults, and has the results in this Original Report.

You can find small pieces of tire rubber, crumbs of rubber, on indoor and outdoor fields throughout the city and suburbs. A popular product some experts say has not been properly tested, which frustrates teenage cancer patient Teddy Shapiro.

The Glenbrook North High School soccer player wants to know whether little pieces of rubber from recycled tires used on synthetic turf fields led to cancer in his pelvis.

“It’s a rare form of bone cancer. It’s called osteosarcoma,” said Shapiro. “I couldn’t really move after the surgery, the pain was intense.”

Shapiro played goalie, since he was eight, on various crumb-rubber fields in Northbrook, Highland Park and Schaumburg. A decade of diving, sliding and burning his skin on crumb rubber and exposing himself to the chemicals they contain.

“It got in my eyes, in my mouth and then there were cuts and it got in the cuts,” said Shapiro.
The pieces of rubber are supposed to soften fields to reduce injuries, but at what price? A college soccer coach in Washington, Amy Griffin, found at least 50 soccer players getting cancer, most of them goalies.

“I believe that there’s a lot of bad things in crumb rubber,” said Griffin.

The 2 Investigators did some testing of local fields including the Sports Zone in Aurora and a field where Shapiro once played on Schaumburg Park District’s Sports Center.

We asked the lab, Microtrace, to test the samples to see what chemicals were being released. Company Vice President, Dr. Chris Palenik, gave us the results.

“The major components were benzothiazole compound and polyaromatic hydrocarbons,” said Palenik.

Chemicals found in the crumb rubber have the potential to cause health problems.

Dr. Robert Cohen, from Northwestern Medicine, says the problem is there has been a lack of significant, long-term testing to find out whether there is a health danger.

“We know some of these chemicals do cause cancer,” said Cohen. “I think the frightening thing is that we just don’t have the information we need.”

Inadequate testing of products like this is a continual problem in the U.S. says Nancy Cowles, who heads watchdog group Kids In Danger.

“Unfortunately a lot in our product safety system is backward,” said Cowles. “In Europe… you have to prove something is safe before you can use it. Often in the U.S., instead, you get to use it until it’s proven unsafe.”

Teddy Shapiro’s mother Juli Shapiro says the cancer diagnosis and treatment have been difficult.

“It’s all hard. It’s all hard,” said Juli Shapiro.

She and her son say with no family history of cancer, they would like to see further crumb rubber testing.

“There should be more, I think more done,” said Teddy Shapiro.

“We need to protect these kids,” said Juli Shapiro. “We need to rule out anything that can harm them.”
CBS 2 only heard back from Schaumburg’s Park District which said, their risk management association advises them there are no health concerns, but they will continue to monitor this.

The Synthetic Turf Council points to almost 60 studies indicating crumb rubber’s safety. But questions about the type of testing done, has led schools or park districts in New York, Los Angeles and Washington to get rid of crumb-rubber fields or ban new ones from being installed.

Teddy Shapiro continues treatment and has a good prognosis.

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