University of Washington associate women’s soccer coach Amy Griffin is probably best known for mentoring U.S. Women’s National Team goalkeeper Hope Solo from 1999-2002, but she has a greater calling in recent years.
Griffin is leading the quest for answers regarding the dangers of artificial turf fields using carcinogenic crumb rubber as faux dirt — the same surfaces installed at thousands of high schools across the country over the past dozen years.
In a segment for NBC Nightly News, she detailed to Stephanie Gosk how she first made a connection between crumb rubber fields and cancer while visiting a former player suffering from Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Her research has since uncovered 63 former soccer players with cancer who played on artificial turf. The majority are goalkeepers, and 15 have died. Griffin’s data — however unscientific — suggests a link between coming into contact with these surfaces and contracting the disease, especially since goalies find crumb rubber in their mouths and cuts more often.
“I’ve coached for 26, 27 years. My first 15 years, I never heard anything about this. All of a sudden it seems to be a stream of kids.”
Griffin readily admits to NBC Nightly News that there is no scientific correlation between artificial turf and cancer, and organizations like AstroTurf, FieldTurf and SPRINTURF reportedly cite “dozens” of studies suggesting it doesn’t.
“It’s always been true that a carcinogenic gas has been used to make tires,” Dr. Laura Green, a toxicologist who studied at MIT, told NBC Nightly News, “but it’s never been true — never — that once the tires are made, once they’re in use and once they’re crumbled that they liberate that or any other carcinogen.”
However, after NBC first interviewed Griffin in 2014, Consumer Product Safety Commission chairman Elliott Kaye altered the government organization’s endorsement of artificial turf because on limited research. “Safe to play means something to parents that I don’t think we intended to convey,” he said, “and I don’t think we should’ve conveyed.”
Both Griffin and the turf companies would like to see the debate settled one way or the other, but while the Environmental Protection Agency suggested “more work needs to be done,” the federal agency has done nothing. The EPA told NBC it’s a state matter, and Griffin’s home state of Washington is currently conducting research.
Meanwhile, Griffin will wait, hoping her data doesn’t double in size as it did over the past year.