While our own Rec & Parks Department and plenty of turf industry folks believe they've put the matter to rest over whether artificial turf made largely from recycled rubber tires causes adverse environmental or health effects, the state of California is moving forward with a $2.9 million study specifically into claims about the health effects of human contact with turf. Specifically the study will examine what chemicals are released from crumb rubber, and the effects of ingesting, inhaling, or coming into skin contact with these chemicals may be.
As the Chronicle reports, fueling the health debate has been an informal list that was compiled by University of Washington assistant soccer coach Amy Griffin of young, cancer-stricken athletes, an alarming percentage of whom are soccer goalies. The Chron spoke to 18-year-old Delaney Frye of Petaluma, a longtime goalie, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last year, and who talks about accidentally ingesting "turf bugs," or small bits of turf, when she would dive and slide to block goals.
The primary debate locally seemed to deal more with potential environmental effects, like chemical runoff into the ocean from fields being constructed near Ocean Beach. As late as February, a small group of stalwart protesters were still out demonstrating against the construction of the four artificial turf fields by the Beach Chalet in Golden Gate Park, construction of which began in November as soon as it was clear that a ballot measure looking to ban artificial turf had died at the polls.
And, of course, the debate last year was further fueled by this viral video, which was ostensibly about the gentrification tensions in the Mission and a battle between tech bros and neighborhood kids over playing time on a soccer field at Mission Playground, but which highlighted the scarcity of playing fields and the popularity among players of those with turf over grass.
Meanwhile, in the midst of our historic drought, turf has been getting plenty of good press, including from the New York Times. And the Chronicle notes that despite approving the money for the health study, the state will simultaneously continue to distribute millions of dollars in subsidies to install crumb rubber products on fields and playgrounds throughout the state.
Also, the cancer fear connected to turf fields led the city of Long Beach to decide last month that they would only use natural-fiber turf on city fields moving forward. Such natural fiber turf products are five times more expensive than the crumb rubber variety.