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Artificial Turf: On The Fence About Risk

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Over the past few months questions have been raised about the safety of artificial turf. I have followed the issue with interest, of course, and get e-mail requests every week asking for my views.

Frankly, I have mixed feelings about artificial turf.  I graduated from college with a full leg cast after suffering a torn ACL one March playing college lacrosse on a still partially frozen grass field in New Hampshire.  I wonder to this day whether the injury would have happened had I been playing on artificial turf.

I have also seen first-hand what can happen when an athlete, whether playing lacrosse, soccer, or football, hits their head on the unyielding surface of a rock hard artificial turf field. (Yes, I know, the modern turf fields are a lot less hard, and grass fields can be hard as well). 

Yet, I also understand why some believe that the crumb rubber infill used in modern turf fields poses an unreasonable risk of harm to young athletes.  After pouring through three inches of support materials compiled in the 2014 SBR Studies manual, and, recognizing that I am not a scientist, I'm not in a position to say one way or the other, although there is some evidence to suggest that soccer players, especially goalkeepers, may be at increased risk of cancer from regular play on artificial turf.  All I can say at this point is that we need to watch the issue very carefully, and to recognize that some of the safety concerns which have been raised against artificial turf could prove troubling if borne out by research.  

I do want to make one thing very clear, however. We have no skin in this game.  While advertising from one artificial turf manufacturer, Field Turf, ran on eight articles,  we notified the company earlier this month that its insertion order would not be renewed, and that we will no longer accept advertising from artificial turf manufacturers going forward.  The reason is we don't want even the appearance of being less than completely objective in our information on the subject. 

At no time has Field Turf's status as a MomsTEAM sponsor influenced in any way the editorial content of our articles on artificial turf.  Our policy has always been and continues to be to provide the most objective and accurate information on youth sports safety as possible.  As is the case with some safety issues in sports, there is not yet clear science in the form of peer-reviewed research to allow a consensus to form on the safety of artificial turf. As a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization dedicated to protecting young athletes with trusted sports safety education, MomsTEAM relies on the support of viewers like you to give you unbiased information so you and the community where you live can decide, based on the most complete information possible, on which side of the fence you fall. 

Brooke de Lench is Executive Director  of MomsTEAM institute of Youth Sports Safety, producer of  The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer (PBS) and author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins).  You can follow Brooke on Twitter @brookedelench.