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I-Team: Health Concerns Raised Over Artificial Turf Fields

BOSTON (CBS) - The snow is finally starting to melt and soon thousands of kids will be headed back outside for the spring sports season.

But the I-Team discovered questions are being raised about the safety of many of the fields located in communities across the state.

We are talking about artificial turf fields. They are durable and easy to maintain, but Teddy Shapiro wonders if they are safe. A soccer goalie since he was eight, Teddy wonders if those fields caused his cancer.

"It's a rare form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma," he explained. "I couldn't really move after the surgery and the pain was, it was intense," he said.

Shapiro and his parents are concerned about the tiny little black crumbs that are used to make the playing fields a bit softer to help avoid injuries.

Turf field
Rubber crumbs from turf field. (WBZ-TV)

Those black crumbs are made from recycled tires and Teddy spent ten years diving and sliding on the stuff.

"You know there are cuts and it got in the cuts when I was diving," he said.

A college soccer coach in Washington, Amy Griffin, had similar concerns. She compiled a list of at least 50 soccer players with cancer, most of them goalies.

"I believe that there are a lot of bad things in crumb rubber," she said.

According to Joel Tickner of the Department of Community Health and Sustainability at UMass Lowell, there are all kinds of chemicals in tires.

"There is probably no doubt that there is exposure to some of the chemicals that may cause cancer, respiratory or skin sensitization," he said.

A 2007 study out of Connecticut found hazardous chemicals in water runoff from the turf fields. But there are no studies proving exposure to the rubber crumbs is harmful to kids.

"We just don't know fully," Tickner said.

The town of Newburyport isn't willing to take any chances. Officials there will shell out up to $250,000 extra to use colored sand instead of crumb rubber.

The town of Marlboro is also getting quotes for an organic alternative for two fields planned for the middle school. However, an official told the I-Team the city would likely go with the crumb rubber.

Tracy Stewart and a group of concerned residents tried, but failed to convince the town of Medway to consider an alternative for two fields at the high school.

Andrea Kerr, another group member, believes children should not be playing on old tires.

"It's [tires] banned from landfills in 11 states. But yet we can let our children play on it, roll on it, openly ingest it. That's really scary," she said.

In a statement, the Synthetic Turf Council argues:

Not one study out of the 51 we cite and make available on our website warns against a serious elevated human health or environmental risk from synthetic turf.

But none of those studies have looked at long-term health effects, something the Shapiros and the Medway parents believe is the only way to know for sure.

"There was a time in our history where asbestos was a great product. There was a point when we didn't care about lead," Kerr said.

"We needed to protect these kids. We need to rule out anything that could harm them," Teddy's mother added.

Several Massachusetts lawmakers sent a letter to the state Department of Public Health. They are asking the agency to do its own safety testing of crumb rubber to help communities make a decision about what is best for their residents.

Send tips for the I-Team to or call 617-779 TIPS

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