(c) ESPN E60: The Turf War

(c) ESPN E60: The Turf War

My two sons play soccer, my husband coaches soccer (and played himself until a couple years ago) and in our house there’s been a lot of discussion about how the synthetic turf fields are really hard on the joints. In fact, this is the reason my husband quit playing regularly in his league. Many professional soccer players will not ever play on synthetic turf and this is written into their contract.

But now there’s an even bigger health concern: The rubber crumbs these synthetic turfs are composed of. These rubber pellets contain 12 known carcinogens; including mercury, arsenic and lead.

The experts theorize they are toxic via inhalation and absorption through the skin. Remember that mucous membranes (nose, eyes, mouth, genitals), the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands are the highest absorption sites on the body.

Not surprisingly, the biggest cancer risk is to the goalie. Many goalies experience the rubber crumbs getting stuck in their eyes, inhaling them, or swallowing them. This video tells it all. You can watch the original (better quality) or this taped version:

Personally, if my son was a goalie, I would completely ban him from playing on synthetic turf. Thankfully, neither of my sons prefer playing in goal.

And as we live in the rainy Pacific Northwest, these synthetic turf fields are everywhere. So if our children refuse to quit soccer – or we don’t want them to quit soccer – what can we do to minimize their cancer risk?

How To Minimize the Health Risks of Synthetic Turf Fields

These are the TURF RULES we’ve put in place to protect our youngest (our eldest has since switched to mostly basketball):

1. Never play in goal – but if you insist, then at least wear eye goggles, and a mask over your nose and mouth is also be necessary (find a way to make it look cool!) – in addition to the gear listed below.

2. Do not lie, sit, or put your skin on the turf – stand up, or sit on a chair or bench instead.

3. Don’t play or goof around on the turf with your friends. Before or after the game, play somewhere else.

4. Keep the turf as far away from your skin, mouth, eyes, nose as you can, at all times.

5. Even in summer, wear leggings under your shorts, and/or play in knee sleeves or tube tensors so there is a barrier between your leg skin (especially knees which get skinned – open skin is more vulnerable) and the rubber crumbs.

6. Wear gloves (leather golf, horseriding, or batting gloves all work well) and a long sleeve shirt under your soccer shirt to protect your arms and hands when you get tackled or wipe out.

Of course, once you realize you’ve got to basically insulate your child from neck to shin to reduce exposure to these carcinogens, it’s time to buy the new gear needed to accomplish this!

So after spending 3 hours researching on Amazon (plain knees sleeves in youth size were the hardest to find) I’m going to give you the links to everything we ordered so you don’t have to do the same slog.

The leggings protect the upper legs and groin, because when you watch the slo-mo shots in the video above, you realize the tremendous amount of rubber crumb spray thrown up when they kick the ball! And the genitals (mucous membrane tissue) are one of the highest absorption sites on the body.

(c) ESPN E60: The Turf War video

(c) ESPN E60: The Turf War video

We purchased leggings, a long sleeve protective shirt, gloves, and knee sleeves (otherwise he’ll rip through the leggings in no time) to wear underneath his normal soccer kit. Here’s what we purchased on Amazon for him: