A recent report of NBC News has raised concern for the possibility that prolonged exposure to one of the latest versions of artificial turf might contribute to the chances that a person will contract some forms of cancer. This came as cruel irony to many who have raised funds for and installed the latest facilities that were intended to be much healthier both for participants and our environment.
It is reported that the millions of old tires that have been diverted from landfills and then ground up and spread to soften artificial playing surfaces may release elements that contribute to disease for those who spend enough time on those surfaces. Touted to be softer and protect participants from joint injuries and concussions, and advertised to promote a healthier environment by recycling old tires and avoiding the need to constantly fertilize and water natural grass fields, it’s now being suggested that this artificial product may be the less healthy alternative for participants and the environment.
As of this writing, the health benefits of current generation artificial turf are well documented, while the health risks are unproven – there is anecdotal evidence, for example, that soccer goalies who have spent many hours per week for many years diving and rolling on the new turf may have ingested unhealthy levels of the tiny black rubber pellets that give the artificial turf its soft “natural” feel.
Nevertheless, this situation is a humbling reminder of how difficult it is to assess all of the unintended consequences in the future of our actions in the present. How might a product that solves many obvious problems be anticipated to have a link to a hidden illness many years later? How might a person who plays a single sport many hours each day all year long anticipate the overuse injuries or other illnesses that such an obsession or devotion might cause?
The questions being raised about the long-term effects of long-term interaction with today’s artificial turf remind us once again to seek moderation in how much we do of any one thing and to seek humility when we think we’ve accomplished something. One seldom can be certain of what is good for us and what is not; and sometimes even the long view of things is not long enough to know.