8News Investigates: Va. Delegate wants to look into link between synthetic turf and cancer

(WRIC) — Parents of young athletes know injuries are a part of the game. But could the field your child plays on be more dangerous than the sport itself?

Virginia Delegate Marcus Simon wants the Commonwealth to take a closer look at crumb rubber turf. That turf is made up of artificial blades of grass held together and cushioned by tiny rubber crumbs.

“They’re everywhere and they’re just little pieces of ground up tire,” says Simon, “You know I can’t just throw the tire into the creek or the trash, it all has to be handled you know as if it’s toxic material and yet sort of, here we are dumping it back onto the fields and letting our kids roll around in it.”

14-year-old soccer goalkeeper Lindsey Romig say those little crumbs end up everywhere.

“When I’m diving, usually it will get in the pocket of my pants and sometimes my sports bra and wherever I’m going. Sometimes it gets into our water bottles since they’re next to the goal on the turf, so it’s hard to keep up with,” explains Romig.

While there’s no scientific proof that crumb rubber turf is dangerous, a Washington state soccer coach has compiled a list of 38 American soccer players, 34 of them goalies, who have been diagnosed with cancer. All of them played on crumb rubber turf.

“Scientifically is there enough data here for it to trend or is it just an anecdote? I don’t know and that’s one of the reasons I think we need to have more study,” says Delegate Simon.

Earlier this year, he introduced a bill aimed at preventing the installation of any more crumb rubber fields in Virginia until the Department of Health could investigate the potential risks. The measure failed.

Simon explains, “Let’s take a step back. Let’s make sure we really understand what we’re having our kids play on before we continue to invest in this technology.”

Most of the crumb rubber fields in the Richmond area are at private schools and sports facilities. There are two in Chesterfield County’s Stratton Park.

We spoke with parents there who were aware of the concerns, but they weren’t overly worried.

“I can’t say that’s one of my biggest issues when you have other issues like concussions and roughness of the game, I guess that’s not high on the priority list,” says Tracy Fee, the mother of a soccer player.

And Robert Marshall, whose daughter also plays the sports adds, “It’s used in quite a few sports around the country and I’m not really concerned at this point in time.”

As for goalkeeper Lindsey Romig, until research proves a connection between crumb rubber fields and cancer, the 14-year-old plans to keep on goal keeping.

“I love the game and that’s what I’m here for,” she explains.

8News reached out to one manufacturer of crumb rubber turf. That company pointed out there is no research that proves a link between synthetic fields and cancer. However, Delegate Simon still believes Virginia needs to conduct its own investigation. He intends to introduce a new bill next legislative session that would mandate a study of crumb rubber turf.

Stay with 8News for more on this developing story.

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