State Dept. of Health says crumb rubber poses no significant risk to public; critics call findings irresponsible

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SEATTLE — It takes tens of thousands of recycled tires to make up one sports field.

The material known as crumb rubber has chemicals shown to cause cancer.

“There is not a guarantee for cancer if you are playing in the field, but I believe that you are putting your kids at risk,” Jean Bryant said.

Bryant believes the fields contributed to the cancer diagnosis of her son Jack, who played soccer for years and dove into crumb rubber as a goal keeper.

“We know it`s not just soccer players, it`s football players, it`s lacrosse players,” Bryant said.

The potential danger so concerning that UW soccer coach Amy Griffin started to keep tabs on the number of soccer players she knew diagnosed with cancer after playing on these types of fields.

She counted more than 50 players with cancer, about half of them goalkeepers, including Bryant’s son.

Griffin spoke to Q13 News in the past about the issue.

“We have to be careful because of the concerns,” Griffin said.

She took the alarming list to the state Department of Health.

“It looked like a lot of cancer, she had a list that was lengthy,” the Department of Health's Lauren Jenks.

But after studying the numbers and the cases, DOH came to this finding:

“Soccer players were not getting cancer at a higher rate compared to everyone else in the state,” Jenks said.

Jenks said it was not even close to what they expected to see.

After looking at the cancer registry, researchers say, Amy`s list needed about 1,300 more cancer patients to even meet the expected rate in this state.

Parents concerned about crumb rubber say the research is flawed.

“It’s not a scientific study and it’s not up to their standard,” said parent Christi Davis, Ph.D.

Davis is so concerned about crumb rubber she pulled her two children out of the Edmonds School District after a battle over the material at one of her kid’s schools.

“The data they provided is useless,” Bryant said.

Bryant said she`s disappointed because she says DOH barely scratched the surface, only using Amy`s list rather than trying to find out the exact number of soccer players with cancer.

“What if the actual numbers are 4,000, we don’t know the actual numbers are,” Bryant said.

“There are limitations to the study, it’s not perfect,” Jenks said.

But state health experts are standing by their results.

“It doesn`t look like people are getting exposed to harmful levels of chemicals from playing on crumb rubber fields,” Jenks said.

The Department of Health said people should continue to play on crumb rubber fields but experts admit they do not know if crumb rubber is 100% safe.

“I think it provides a false sense of safety, I think it’s significantly irresponsible,” Bryant said.

DOH did not physically test crumb rubber. So whether or not crumb rubber is safe or how much exposure is too much are all questions that have yet to be answered.

But DOH says that was not the goal of their investigation, that it was only to investigate Amy’s numbers.

They decided not to expand the investigation after crunching the cases Amy brought forward. The number was so low, compared to the rest of the population, the state said they did not feel it was necessary to expand.

They also said it would have been an overwhelming effort to try to track down all soccer players who had been diagnosed with cancer.

The EPA and CDC are investigating the safety of crumb rubber; the department says they are closely watching for the reports.