As we stepped off the field all we could think of was getting to the shade. People had begun spraying water over the fields, and steam started rising from the ground. As we got ready to play our next game one girl had to change her cleats because the one’s she had been wearing had melted over the course of the previous game.
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Another girl was begging the coach not to force her back on the field. We had been familiar with playing soccer in very high temperatures but none of us had experienced this while playing on artificial field turf. These, however, are not only dangers that come with being an athlete forced to play on artificial field turf. In recent years disquietudes have risen about possible dangers related to exposure to artificial field turf among athletes, specifically both the immediate and long term ramifications turf can have on one’s health.
Concern related to the use of artificial field turf connects to the different materials turf is comprised of: backing material, which provides support; plastic blades, which make it a form of grass; and infill, found in the form of rubber beads. These beads comprised of recycled tires, which include: lead, benzene, mercury, arsenic, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, along with a number of others, as reported by Hannah Rappleye (NBC). But these are just a few of the many possible ingredients used in the turf beads.
It is difficult to know exactly what potentially harmful materials an athlete is being exposed to due to the variety of tires being used to make turf. Without testing every individual bead of grass there is no way to know with absolute certainty what athletes are being exposed to as they play. In 2011 a study was conducted by Stuart L. Shalat to determine how much field turf is inhaled by athletes while on the field. A machine called a PIPER was used to sample the air of five different fields throughout New Jersey. All of the tests took place during the summer at temperatures higher than eighty degrees fahrenheit.
The results proved that the wipe samples of lead measured in ng/ft2 ranges from thirty on fields two and five to ten thousand three hundred thirty on field one. Field one is the only field in the sample to be over five years old. This data suggests that even limited activity can cause the turf to be inhaled by the athletes present. Considering the number of other materials used, this has just reason to raise consternation (Shalat). All of this data also excludes the fact that turf beads can easily be swallowed and ingested, according to Jordan Swarthout, a former soccer goalie, who had spent multiple days a week playing on artificial turf for several years.
Other apprehensions pertaining to artificial turf include the possibility of turf causing cancer. While there is no data to prove that turf is carcinogenic, one coach is collecting data to support the theory. A soccer coach, Amy Griffin, was heartbroken when she learned that one of her players had been diagnosed with cancer. The young girl was a goalie for the team and was the fourth goalie in the area to be diagnosed with cancer, according to one of the nurses. Griffin found this worrisome and decided to look into it further. Of the thirty eight young soccer players in the area diagnosed with cancer, thirty-four of them were goalies.
Although it seems staggering to have eighty nine percent of the patients playing the same position on the field, upon further analysis it begins to make sense. Goalies make the most contact with the surface of the field. By diving to make saves, they often tear up their arms and legs during both games and practices. This results in direct exposure to turf. One patient, Jordan Swarthout, claims that she would, “clean [turf beads] out of the abrasions and burns she got as a goalkeeper on turf” everyday (Rappleye). While there is no present evidence to definitively prove turf to be carcinogenic, there is a high correlation between the number of girls diagnosed after playing on turf, and the amount of contact each girl had with the turf.
In recent years there has been a growing apprehension related to the number of concussions athletes are sustaining, as shown through the amount of attention the media is giving the topic. In football, this could be between two players crashing into each other; in soccer, this could be when the player goes up to head the ball. Few people realize that another way players could be getting concussions could be when they fall and hit their head against the ground.
This is painful on a real grass field, where the player hits their head on the dirt, but it could hurt far worse to land on turf. Artificial turf is made on top on a much harder concrete foundation. This would be a much harder surface for players to hit their head against. A study was conducted to calculate just how much damage falling on artificial turf could do to athletes. The Gmax of an array of turf fields was collected using a CIST machine and F-355, machines made specifically to calculate how hard surfaces are. According to Penn State Gmax is considered, “the average reported of the second and third drop in the same location.” Six trials were collected using the CIST machine. The maximum Gmax for this machine was 135.
The astroturf field that had already been used proved to have one Gmax of 113.5 and another of 118.6. This is between 84 and 87 percent of the Gmax allowed for athletes to slam their head against the ground and still be considered safe. During the three F-355 trials the highest allowing Gmax for safety became 200 (Penn State Department of Plant Sciences). Although none of the trials came close to reaching the maximum Gmax of two hundred–the highest safety Gmax for this machine– there was a direct correlation between the Gmax of the field and how old the field was. The older the field, the higher the Gmax. All of these trials were reported by Penn State and relate to the increase in attention head injuries are receiving in current media.
Members from the United States Women’s soccer team were outraged in 2015 when they learned they would be playing their World Cup games on artificial turf (Alba NBC). Throughout the qualifying games, quarter-finals, and semi-finals, players from multiple countries complained of the negative side-effects that came with turf. A star of the United States team, Abby Wambach, explained that field turf took away her ability to trust her own skills. The turf would cause the ball to spin differently than grass, which would make it difficult for her to know when to head the ball. Additionally, she began to hesitate before she would slide for the ball because all she would be able to think about was the cuts and burns it would leave on her legs. Players from various teams, such as America’s Sydney Leroux, Germany’s Nadine Angerer, and Australia’s Samantha Kerr, posted pictures on social media platforms displaying how bloody their legs become after playing in a game on turf (Alba NBC).
Leading to the World Cup many countries banded together in an attempt to play on natural grass opposed to turf. Their claim was that, as the best players in the world, they should be able to play on the best fields as well. They were denied this right and were still forced to play on turf throughout the entire tournament. Wambach claimed the turf caused her to, “second guess whether to slide tackle or go for a diving header,” due to the possible injuries it would result in (Alba NBC).
One fact that has been proven about field turf is the amount of heat it emits on an already hot day. Data was collected from the 2015 Women’s World Cup played in Canada. Temperatures on the field during the Canada v. China game reached 120 degrees an hour before the game had started, and the Ottawa field reached up to 130 degrees (Alba NBC). It has been recorded that artificial turf creates a hotter surface for athletes to play on. On sunny, clear days turf can average up to thirty five to fifty degrees fahrenheit above the temperature the same field would have been had the grass been natural opposed to artificial.
A study in the 1970s proved that field turf grew up to fifty degrees higher than natural grass and very little had been done in the following decades to change this issue (The Sportsturf Scoop). In 2002 in Provo Utah, a turf field was once recorded to have a temperature of two hundred degrees fahrenheit, when the actual temperature of the area was only ninety eight. While these conditions are dangerous to all people, they can be incredibly harmful to children who spend hours each week playing on turf. It is much harder for children to adjust to these extreme temperatures compared to adults. It can cause dehydration and even heat stroke (The Sportsturf Scoop). The reason turf is so much hotter than natural grass is because natural grass, unlike artificial grass, has the ability to transpire; plastic blades cannot perform this same task.
Measures, such as spraying the fields with water between games, have been taken to try to solve this issue; however, this is not very effective and for the most part a temporary solution. At Williams and Pulley it took thirty minutes of watering for a field to drop from one hundred seventy degrees fahrenheit to only eighty five. Yet, in only five short minutes, the temperatures had risen back up to one hundred twenty degrees, and in twenty minutes the field was one hundred sixty four degrees (Penn State). Although precautions are being made, they are not adequate in ensuring the health of the athlete playing on the fields.
Many parks and recreation departments, along with schools, are not swayed by these facts and still want to use artificial turf on their athletic fields. According to the Synthetic Turf Council, turf has numerous attributes that would ameliorate entire communities. Turf uses an overall average of less water than natural grass (Synthetic Turf Council). This can help communities conserve their water supply, which is particularly useful in times of drought. Turf fields are also more easily sustained.
After three games on natural grass, a field begins to get torn apart, leaving a clear view of all the places that will require maintenance. On the contrary, turf can be played on all day without showing any signs of wear. This can allow towns and schools to rent out their fields and increase their revenue. Many towns rely on this money to fund their events, which is one of the many advantages of artificial field turf for communities.
Although there are benefits to using turf opposed to natural grass, they do not outweigh the negative consequences. While a tournament would be able to have more games on a turf field rather than a grass field, it is during these long tournaments that the field would heat up on sunny days. There is no time during a tournament for the fields to be watered sufficiently which would compromise the heat on the field. This could harm the athletes health. Additionally, the field is easier to maintain, but the materials that make it so easy to maintain are tearing, burning, and cutting players’ arms and legs whenever they touch the surface of the field. Professional female soccer players have been speaking out against this for years and have documented evidence to prove the harm that turf can cause to a person’s body. The turf beads and the concrete foundation have been shown to correlate to both patients that have been diagnosed with cancer and the number of concussions young athletes are getting. A turf field might be a financial investment, but there are some tests of higher cost than monetary value.
The use of artificial field turf is growing throughout the country and the world. It has become a versatile way for athletes to play their sport in places where natural grass may not be available. This does not mean the athletes should sacrifice their health, both at the present and in the future, simply for convenience. People who play sports know that there is always the risk of getting injured when they step on the field; they usually are not aware the field could be the cause of the injury.
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