Where Do TFCA BOD Nominees Stand On the Crumb-Rubber Turf Issue?

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The list of Triangle Futbol Club Alliance (TFCA) Board of Directors (BOD) nominees was announced yesterday and by my estimation they all seem to be impressive candidates. There are four spots up for election on the board this year and so teams can vote for four of the six nominees. The one issue in this election which my wife and I are concerned about is the question of what type of surfaces the kids will play on. Given the current controversy around crumb-rubber and its possible link to cancer in soccer players, this an important issue.

Here’s a link to one of the latest articles on this issue: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/artificial-turf-debate/senators-ask-white-house-spearhead-study-crumb-rubber-turf-n501536

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Soccer purists tend to prefer natural grass, but of course turf often becomes necessary when the grass fields are soggy. With the announcement that TFCA is partnering with the town of Apex to install new soccer facilities, I am curious what type of turf will be installed, and if it will include crumb-rubber fill made from recycled, ground up tires.

Personally, I wanted to know where each of the candidates stood on this issue prior to voting next week. I wrote a letter to ask them, and I wanted to share with other families / teams what I’ve learned.

As of now (Monday), I’ve received responses from all six nominees, here is a summary of each:

  1. Joshua Higgin – The issue needs further study. One of the things TFCA can do now is mitigate the exposure of any one team to the artificial surface by using a field rotation system that will allow teams equal access to natural grass surfaces. The issue should also be raised with soccer governing bodies (NCYSA, USYS, and US Club Soccer) to see what guidance they can offer.*
  1. Carolyn Nye – Turf fields should be treated as bad weather back-ups for grass surfaces, and no team should treat a turf field as their “home” field. Precautions should be put into place so players know to wash off scrapes and crumb rubber after games. For new turf fields, “organic infill” alternatives such as coconut husks or cork should be evaluated.*
  1. Will Wilson – We should limit playing time on turf when we have options. We should provide input on the proposed plans for Pleasant Park. Future TFCA controlled facilities should evaluate non-toxic infill alternatives such as ground up sneaker soles (as Nike has shown to be effective). Turf should be treated as an inclement weather option when natural fields are soggy.*
  1. Mike Williams – Good judgement should be used and all data should be taken into account. We should learn all we can from soccer programs which have faced similar situations to understand all options. The BOD should listen to constituents and make decisions with health and safety as a top priority.*
  1. Shelley Blake – This is a major concern for me as my daughter plays goalkeeper. There is no point in exposing our children to a possibly harmful substance. We need the federal government to express clear guidance and sign off on this before we can consider it safe. Any new facility should seek alternatives to crumb-rubber, at least until we have better evidence; and until then, we should limit their exposure.*
  2. Dave Lehmkuhl – The safety of players is paramount over any other concerns. TFCA should advocate the use of alternatives to crumb-rubber to the town of Apex. TFCA can maximize the time players spend on natural grass surfaces in order to minimize exposure to crumb-rubber turf.*

Based on the above responses, it’s my opinion that these six nominees are showing a thoughtful approach. It’s also encouraging when nominees show attentiveness to an issue that is important to constituents, and have taken the time to read, and respond to such a letter. I found all of the responses to be reasonable, and choosing the top four was not easy. I’m confident that my concerns have been heard, and the BOD will take the crumb-rubber turf issue seriously going forward.

Personally, I am most impressed by the responses from Shelley Blake, Will Wilson, Carolyn Nye and Dave Lehmkuhl. These are the four nominees I will support my team voting for. If I receive a response from the sixth nominee, I will update this blog to reflect his input, and I will reevaluate my selections for the top four. (note: Response from Dave Lehmkuhl was received on Sunday 1/31, and this article was edited on 2/1 to reflect his response and revise the list of four supported nominees)

Below is a quick overview of the controversy surrounding crumb-rubber infill, a short blurb about my family’s involvement with TFCA, and the full text of my letter to the BOD nominees.

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For years now, people in the soccer community have been raising questions about the safety of crumb-rubber coming from ground up tires. This is based on what seems to be an unusually high number of players (especially goalkeepers who have the most exposure) developing Leukemia and Lymphoma. Since there are carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals contained in the tires, some wondered if this could be the reason so many goalkeepers were developing cancer. Of course the artificial turf industry executives dispute the idea of any correlation and point to studies which have shown no proven connection between crumb rubber exposure and cancer. A bi-partisan group of congressional leaders has asked the EPA to take a stand on the issue, which is something that the artificial turf companies also want. Currently, there is ongoing collaboration between the Center for Disease Control, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency to examine the issue in greater detail and conclusively determine if playing on crumb-rubber surfaces creates an elevated health risk for players.

About me: My family has been involved in TFCA since last Spring and my son Nick has really enjoyed playing on the team. Nick tried out for both TFCA and CASL, but in the end we chose to join TFCA and have been very happy. In addition to having a great coach (Bobby Johnston), we’ve been glad to see that the boys mostly play on natural grass surfaces.

Full text of my letter to the TFCA BOD Nominees:

Dear All,

I am the father of an 8 year old player on the TFCA FAST CAM Navy team coached by Bobby Johnston. Thank you all for volunteering your services for the organization. I was very impressed by the variety and depth of experience you offer, I’m sure you would all do a great job.

But since we may only vote for 4 of you, I wanted to ask one question about your stance on a particular issue.

By now most of us have heard about the controversy surrounding the use of turf fields with crumb rubber fill (made from ground up tires). If you are not familiar, you can read an article here:

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/artificial-turf-debate/senators-call-independent-crumb-rubber-turf-study-n459001

While this surface has become popular, some have become concerned by the apparent association between exposure to crumb rubber and the incidence of Leukemia and Lymphoma, especially for those players with the most turf contact (Goalkeepers).

I realize that it would be virtually impossible to prevent TFCA players from ever playing on crumb rubber turf surfaces, but do think the organization should seek to minimize the time the players spend on them. This would seem to be a prudent precaution at least until more scientific studies can be completed, and more answers become available.

What is your position on TFCA player exposure to crumb rubber turf fields? With the new agreement with the town of Apex to install turf fields, will you advocate for these to not include the type of crumb rubber that has become controversial?

I will appreciate any thoughts/opinions you can offer here.

Thanks and Kind Regards,

Derek V. DeShane

*The summaries of nominee responses were created by Derek V. DeShane for brevity and the wording is paraphrased. Please let me know if you would like to see the full text of each response.

[This post was first published on 1/30/16 and edited on 2/1/16]

Nick and I

This was from our first 3v3 tournament in Summer 2014.

2 thoughts on “Where Do TFCA BOD Nominees Stand On the Crumb-Rubber Turf Issue?

  1. Hi- my town of Hamden, Ct is about to vote on the installation of a crumb rubber field. Is it possible to get the full responses of each candidate? i think it would be important to present to the town Planning and Zoning Committee. Thanks!

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  2. @Jessica Hazan – Below are the full text responses from the board of directors nominees – hope this helps! Thanks – D

    Hi Derek.

    Thank you for sending your email. I was vaguely aware of the artificial turf and cancer issue, but I hadn’t given it very much thought before today.

    This is a very tough issue and I don’t think there are any easy answers. Let me start by saying, as you may know from the bio that TFCA sent out about me, that I have a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. I also did a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS) which is one of the institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) here in RTP. While I didn’t study the environmental impact of ground up tire bits on children, I did come to appreciate the effects of the environment on our health. I do believe that the issue needs to be studied by the best impartial scientists we have. I am a firm believer in peer reviewed credible science. The NIEHS shares a campus with the EPA office here in RTP and my children went to the daycare and preschool that is jointly run by the EPA and NIEHS so I have many friends who are scientists at both institutions. I believe that issue needs to be studied further and I will ask my friends what their thoughts are on the subject, but from what I gather today, there is no scientific consensus on the link between artificial turf and cancer in children.

    Until those findings can be made I can see several things that we can do now. The first thing would be to raise the issue through the NCYSA and up to USYS and US Club Soccer. We should propose resolutions calling on those governing bodies to call for studies on the issue as soon as possible. As a club we can try to mitigate the exposure of any one team’s contact with the artificial surface as much as possible by coming up with a field rotation that gives all of the teams some access to both natural grass and artificial surfaces. This will not only decrease the exposure to any one team, but also allow all of the teams, not just our elite teams, the opportunity to get some field time on the artificial fields when the weather closes the natural grass fields. We should also seek guidance from the soccer governing bodies, NCYSA, USYS, and US Club Soccer on best practices for managing children’s exposure to the possible carcinogens until more definitive studies are completed.

    Sincerely,

    Joshua Higgin

    Hi Derek,
    Thanks for your question. I have a 9-year old daughter who splits goalie time, so I share your concern.

    We play in the Raleigh region and honestly, with all the bad weather, I sometimes find myself wishing we had access to a turf field for my son’s U14 team. In fact, I believe that is the proper role for turf fields – as bad weather backups where time is shared by teams. I do not think it is safe for turf fields to be the “home” field for any one team. Further, I think turf fields should be largely taken offline during the hot summer months when they are likely to emit more VOCs. And really, it is too hot in July and August to be playing on that surface anyway.

    When turf is in use, I believe certain precautions can be put in place. First, all players must be required to wash off scrapes and scratches at half time and immediately following the game to remove the crumb rubber. Second, I think goalies should be required to wear long pants and sleeves when playing on turf to reduce contact with skin. Third, playing time on turf should be minimized especially for the younger age groups.

    As for building new fields, I think there is a need for turf fields in each region to serve the purpose stated above. There are new turf products with what they call “organic infill” which is comprised of coconut and rice husks, cork and/or other materials. There are some municipalities who are switching over. The “grass” of course is still plastic and should be avoided in the hotter months. Also, there is no research on the effects of exposure to the coconut or cork dust. I would definitely further investigate its safety, especially if it promises the same reduction in strains, sprains, concussions, etc. that some coaches attribute to turf.

    Obviously the science is inconclusive. But when it comes to our children, I think we should always proceed with caution. And maybe I am old fashioned, but I enjoy watching my kids play soccer on grass, the way it should be.

    All the best this season.

    Carolyn Nye

    Hey Derek – Good and fair question.

    I am familiar with the concerns that have been raised on a national level, as well as the positions of most of the pro leagues. The Leagues, at this stage, are basically keeping an eye on it and engaging their various medical staffs to try and understand if there is a legitimate correlation. As you know, the sample size is pretty low and there is

    I think we should aim to limit playing on these types of surfaces when we have options, provide input where our voice may be heard (such as around the proposed plans for Pleasant Park), and when we ultimately have direct input and/or control over a facility in future then we should look to install infill product that is not toxic – for example, I have heard that Nike makes a synthetic turf product from ground up shoes that is safe. It would likely cost a little more, but may likely cost a lot less in the long run.

    The good thing about soccer is that everyone, at all levels, is aligned in wanting the game played on grass. Turf should really just be an inclement weather option and is a necessary evil in that regard.

    I agree that it is a topic we should be thinking about and monitoring.

    Thanks –

    Will

    Derek,

    Thank you for the opportunity to answer your question. It would be my opinion to use good judgement by reviewing data and research that supports or opposes the project. I would also recommend reviewing other large programs that have recently developed turf fields with various materials/products.

    It would only be the in the best interest of the club and for the safety of all players to complete a thorough study that involved pros and cons as well as researching various turf field options. This way you can make a valid decision with data to support the decision.

    Because the research is limited thus far, I think it would be most important to contact various programs with similar situations to gain a greater understanding for options.

    Finally, as a potential board member it would be important for me to look at all angles and listen to the constituents like yourself and make a valid decision based first and foremost on what is best for the players of TFCA with safety and health as a top priority.

    Thank you and hope this helps!

    Mike Williams

    Hi Mr. DeShane,

    Thank you for your email.

    I just had a similar conversation with another parent the other day. I have a young daughter that plays goalie and I was especially concerned for her as she spends a lot of time on the ground.

    I have read some of the literature and articles concerning this issue. I am of the opinion that there is no point in exposing our children to something that even could possibly expose them to harm. I know that this has become a popular substance, but I have not heard any convincing arguments on why it should be used prior to the federal government fully signing off on it. I would need to hear some very compelling arguments before I would ever be able to approve using the crumb rubber fill on a new facility. I certainly want to limit the amount of time my kids spend exposed to it.

    I hope that you are enjoying playing for TFCA. My oldest started on the young FAST CAM Navy team and continues to love playing soccer.

    Please do not hesitate to ask if you have any other questions. I am always happy to share my opinion.

    Thanks,

    Shelley Blake

    Derek –

    Thank you for question on the use of crumb rubber within the fields.

    I am fairly well versed on this topic as my son played goalkeeper for years. I do not take this lightly as I feel the safety of the players (our kids) is paramount over anything.

    I agree with you 100% that we should minimize our players to playing on the rubber crumb fields. TFCA should strongly advocate to the Town of Apex on the use of alternatives to the rubber-crumb standard fields. The studies are not complete yet but enough is known to make any parent scared of this danger and leaders within organizations take responsible actions accordingly to minimize the risk.

    TFCA has access to a number of grass fields within its regions(e.g. CAM – Davis Drive Complex, Morrisville Elementary, Reddy Creek, HSFV – LFS, Oakridge Farms, etc.). TFCA can maximize these for practices and games in order to lessen the exposure to its players. While this may create some additional scheduling and lease agreements (i.e. additional funds), I think this is a pro-active and common sense step that the BOD and TFCA can take.

    Again, all other issues become trivial when compared to player safety. This element among others that impact the safety of the players has to remain the focus of TFCA at the Regional Leadership and the BOD levels.

    Thanks again for the question and please feel free to contact me if you or your parents have additional follow-up questions.

    Dave

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