Artificial pitches meet industry testing standards, say FA, after claims linking rubber crumb to cancer
The safety of 3G pitches hit the news this month when a former National Health Service chief executive claimed the ‘rubber crumb’ pellets used in modern 3G surfaces to give them more bounce had contributed to his son’s illness.
Nigel Maguire has called on the government to review the safety of 3G pitches after his 18-year-old son Lewis developed Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As a goalkeeper, Nigel believes his son was more exposed to the rubber pellets – which are often made from used car tyres – than most players.
“Lewis would be training on this stuff once or twice a week for four or five years, and he would come back telling me how he swallowed a lot of it, how it got into his eyes, and in cuts and grazes,” Maguire told BBC Radio 5 live.
“I didn’t think anything of it, one wouldn’t, would you? You’d think if something that was licensed to be put on turf it would be thoroughly researched. The reality is that it hasn’t.”
“I’m asking for a review to be undertaken by our government to look at the available evidence, to commission research and look at the health impact.”
The Football Association – which has placed 3G pitches at the heart of its £260m strategy to improve grassroots football – insists that pitches are “safe” and that it continues to monitor all available research in this area.
An FA spokesperson said: “The numerous scientific studies conducted by government agencies around the world, and undertaken by independent experts have all validated the human health and environmental safety of 3G pitches and crumb rubber.
“The FA adheres to the latest independent evidence which indicates that 3G pitches in the UK which are built to industry-standard specifications are safe.”
There are currently over 600 artificial 3G pitches in England and, as winter weather continues to cause havoc to the grassroots football season, the need for an alternative to grass pitches has never been in more stark focus.
The FA’s new Parklife project will introduce new 3G ‘hubs’ in 30 cities across England by 2020 – with the first of these set to open in Sheffield in April – thereby bringing the total number to over 1,000. The FA assures people that all pitches used will meet rigorous safety standards.
“Over the past 12 months Labosport – an independent laboratory that specialises in the testing of sports surfaces – has assessed crumb rubber in the UK, EU and USA to the same test method that is required for the testing of children’s toys. It has not once found any toxicology issues doing these tests,” said an FA statement.
“We take the health, safety, and welfare of 3G pitch users very seriously and the FA has a register of approved pitches. To ensure all reasonable actions are taken to validate the safety of our users, and suitability of the facilities that we fund, the authorities monitor scientific data on a regular basis.
“Should any new credible scientific data be identified in the future we will review our guidance at such time. Equally, if an independent agency or testing organisation decides to conduct new objective and science-based research on the safety of 3G pitches and crumb rubber, we will assist in any way we can.”
New research findings may soon be available from the United States, after the government this month called for more research into the safety of rubber crumb.
The issue first hit the news in October 2014 when Amy Griffin, a women’s soccer coach and former US national team player, raised concerns after two of her goalkeepers developed cancer.
She began looking into the issue and, helped by increased media coverage, has since compiled a list of over 200 athletes who have played on artificial turf to have developed cancer. 158 of those athletes are footballers, of whom 101 are goalkeepers.
Although there is no research linking rubber crumb to cancer and dozens of industry reports point to its safety, the US federal government has now said that more research is required. It has called on three agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, to carry out more analysis on and measure exposure to the chemical compounds used in rubber crumb on 3G pitches.
You can view a NBC report on the US story in the video below, while an ESPN investigation into rubber crumb is available to view here: ‘Turf Wars: How Safe Are The Fields Where We Play?‘.
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