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A growing use of artificial turf and the growing cancer risk

Major league soccer has really come into its own over the last decade, with soccer teams popping up all over the nation, from the Seattle Sounders on the West Coast to our own New York City FC here on the East Coast. And while some clubs prefer to play on natural turf, some teams have opted for a more durable and lower maintenance option: artificial turf.

Deemed safe by manufacturers, artificial turf utilizes rubber crumbs that make the surface springy, just like natural turf. Unfortunately, as one report has discovered, these surfaces may not be as safe as manufacturers have led us to believe.

News report finds link between cancer and artificial turf

Back in 2014, NBC ran a report concerning the growing number of female soccer players being diagnosed with cancer. In the report, 38 American soccer players were identified, all of whom have been diagnosed with some form of cancer, including leukemia and lymphoma.

The report concluded that it was the constant dermal contact with the rubber crumbs in the artificial turf that caused the female players to develop cancer. How? As a March Forbes article explains, the rubber crumbs contain "a number of carcinogens at various levels." Constant exposure to these harmful chemicals can cause a person to develop cancer, which can be life threatening.

What does this mean for players?

Although a majority of MLS teams play on natural grass turf, a few teams continue to use artificial fields, including at least half of the professional women's soccer teams in the United States. This means continued exposure to chemicals that could develop into cancer. Some may argue that this could constitute as an occupational illness that would then allow players to seek compensation for their injuries.

While the risk of developing cancer among these athletes has not gone on unnoticed by federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it may be months or even years before we see conditions improve for athletes who use these fields. In the meantime, it's possible that more players could suffer as a result.

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