Dutch study finds synthetic fields with rubber crumbs are safe

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- A Dutch government public health organisation said on Tuesday it is safe to play football and other sports on artificial turf fields covered in rubber crumbs, following an investigation triggered by fears over dangerous chemicals in the granules.

The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment published a report saying that the health risk from playing on such fields, which are common throughout the Netherlands and elsewhere as low-maintenance alternatives to natural grass, is "virtually negligible."

The Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) welcomed the findings, saying they gave clarity to sports clubs and players. Many clubs across the Netherlands had stopped playing on rubber crumb fields since a television programme in October raised concerns about health risks.

ESPN aired a separate programme about the potential affects in 2015.

"The uncertainly about playing football on synthetic grass with rubber crumb is gone," the KNVB said in a statement. "Footballers, parents, clubs and the KNVB can move on. The signal is safe."

The crumbs, usually made from old car tires, give synthetic turf fields properties similar to real grass -- they ensure the ball does not bounce too high and make the synthetic fields better suited for sliding tackles. But there are long-held fears that the chemicals in the shredded tires include carcinogens that could find their way into players' bodies.

The Dutch investigation tested 100 sports fields and studied available scientific literature. The organisation said it also will carefully study American research expected early next year into the fields, which have been in use in the United States for longer than in the Netherlands.

"No indications were found in the available literature of a link between playing sports on synthetic turf fields with an infill of rubber granulate and the incidence of leukemia and lymph node cancer," the Dutch study said. "No international research has demonstrated this connection."

It added that chemicals linked to causing such cancers are either not present in the rubber crumb or are present in very small amounts. Tests conducted for the study also showed that chemical substances in the crumb were released in very low quantities.

"This is because the substances are more or less `enclosed' in the granulate, which means that the effect of these substances on human health is virtually negligible," the report said.

Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem last month halted play on their rubber crumb-based training field because of health concerns, but said on Tuesday that "after the winter break play will resume on the field."