Current issues related to rubber infill in 3G pitches: Perspectives challenged

There is much recent activity by some people on their concerns about the use of rubber infill in artificial sports surfaces (i.e. 3G pitches used for football and rugby). I thought a few reflections are in order on the question of “Shouldn’t this be put into perspective with all the known deaths and serious illnesses caused in modern society?” Do we really understand the concept of risk? Probably not.

Sky news article 8th Dec 2016

Sky news article 8th Dec 2016 (Source www.skysports.com)

Government under increasing pressure to curb use of 3G pitches. This follows a personal campaign by a father who is especially concerned about his son having cancer which he believes was caused by playing on the rubber infill surfaces. A recent letter he wrote to the Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch, expresses his concerns in detail.

Letter to Tracey Crouch

Letter to Tracey Crouch (Source: Pitchcare www.pitchcare.com)

The FA have taken the position that the surfaces and infill material are safe to use (The Guardian, 16 Feb, 2016)

FA comment on 3g pitches

FA comment on 3g pitches (Source The Guardian, www.theguardian.com)

A review of researched literature and reports by the US Environmental Protection Agency (to November 2015), in contrast to anecdotal ‘evidence’ and ‘beliefs’, does not provide a causal link between increased cancer rates from sporting activities and the use of rubber crumb infill on 3G surfaces. The EPA are to report on more recent research shortly, so there may, or may not, be a positional change.

One must clearly sympathise with individuals with any life threatening illness and one can understand a desire to blame something or someone for the cause. It is quite reasonable to support continued research into the efficacy of such materials, to identify optimum infill materials and to monitor the situation; and if a change is needed then so be it, but to call for a ban will be considered unreasonable by the vast majority of people. The first 3G surface was installed in the mid 1990s: How many people have definitely been confirmed as having a serious life threatening illness, or death, that has been caused by activities on these surfaces. None?

Let us suppose that in time there is a causal link found in some situations, but the probability of a life threatening illness being caused by sporting activities is hundreds or thousands of times less likely than being killed from say in a car accident; will this miniscule risk justify removing all rubber infill from these pitches, with all the consequences involved? Only society could answer that question if the situation arises. What is the real risk (which at the moment appears to be less than minimal) and when it is scientifically identified how will society judge whether the risk is acceptable or not?

It is clearly difficult for people with illnesses who want to blame something or someone to take a balanced perspective sometimes, and now is certainly a time for a balanced perspective to be shown. {Having had cancer myself in the mid 1990s, with surgery and subsequent intensive cycles of chemotherapy, I would typically be one to be jumping for a ban when the words carcinogen or cancer are mentioned in relation to a product or process; but modern society brings many undesirables, which end up being very low risk and we can’t live in a risk free society as there is no such thing; we need some perspective.}

How many people have an early death due to the causal link with air pollution, particularly that caused by road traffic: 40,000 per year in the UK; plus how many tens of thousands more have had serious breathing problems aggravated by air pollution? A very high risk is evident from this example, yet look at how little we do to really address the problem. Why is that?

Prioritising serious illnesses and causes of deaths needs to be addressed in a systematic way if society wants to reduce these large figures. We need to listen to experts (although how many times can we say we have ignored their advice in 2016!) and not vocal minorities or biased industry findings where this exists. The use of 3G pitches with rubber infill is way down the scale of priorities for society; keep pursuing research and monitoring the situation but we need to be realistic and proportional, with an appropriate perspective here as there are much more important issues affecting not just our industry, but society as a whole and the global community and environment.

Chris Gray: December 12, 2016

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