Scots professor claims cancer-causing chemical in 3G pitches

Prof Andrew Watterson has found potential risk of carcinogenic materials in samples of rubber crumb taken from 3G football pitches. Picture: John Jeffay

Prof Andrew Watterson has found potential risk of carcinogenic materials in samples of rubber crumb taken from 3G football pitches. Picture: John Jeffay

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A professor at the University of Stirling has identified cancer-causing chemicals in crumb samples from 3G football pitches.

It follows reports in the United States linking cancer among 168 footballers with the pitches.

Samples of the crumb – pellets spread on the artificial turf to improve its bounce – were sent for testing by the Environment Scientifics Group, and the results were passed to Prof Andrew Watterson, an environmental health expert from the University of Stirling.

He said: “This report confirms and reveals the presence of a number of carcinogens at various levels in the rubber crumb.

“If the chemicals and metals remain locked in to the crumb, then there will be no exposure.

“However, it seems to be fairly clear that there may be some potential risk from some of these substances to sports people.

“To what extent and with what effect the carcinogenic metals and semi-volatile organic compounds may be taken up through inhalation, skin absorption or ingestion and under what conditions remains the big question.”

The crumb rubber, which is made from recycled car tyres, has been linked to cancer clusters. Tests on samples revealed the presence of a number of chemical elements linked to poisoning, such as arsenic, lead and cadmium.

However, it was the prevalence of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that will cause the most concern. Research in 2014 by four US universities found polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to be “highly mutagenic cancer-causing 
compounds”.

The two biggest PAHs we discovered were Benzo (E) Pyrene and Chrysene.

A 1993 study into Benzo (E) Pyrene said the substance promotes tumours forming on skin.

And as far back as 1978, experts found exposing mice to Chrysene led to a huge increase in tumours in the animals.

Amateur goalkeeper Robbie Jones, from Cardiff, said there should be a ban on building new pitches until the safety of rubber crumb is properly investigated.

The 30-year-old, diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma a year ago after playing on 3G pitches three times a week for 12 years, fears playing on the surfaces caused his illness.

“If there’s any evidence the stuff could be harmful there should not be any more built until it is investigated,” he said.

“Schoolkids play on them all the time and I think their parents should think twice about that.”

The Sports and Play Construction Association, which represents the artificial pitch construction industry, could not be contacted for 
comment.

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