Crumb rubber is made from shredded tires and is used in soccer fields all over the country. The turf is especially popular in Seattle because the tires get recycled and the reliable surface can stand up to soggy weather.
But one local coach sees a troubling connection between the turf and cancer among soccer players.
Soccer runs in the blood of University of Washington assistant coach Amy Griffin. She started playing goalie as a child, and now helps UW goalies stay fit and improve their skills.
Griffin's always searching for new talent and keeps a list of top players. But one list of names isn't about recruiting. On it are 13 players from Washington who have all been diagnosed with rare types of cancer.
Of those 13, 11 come from an even smaller pool of players: Goal keepers.
"Everyone says it's just a coincidence and kind of walks away, but the ratio of goal keepers to field players is 15 to 1, 16 to 2, and I know plenty of goal keepers that have cancers and I don't know many field players," Griffin said.
Griffin said she can't walk away from what she's discovered, and she's not alone. Former professional goalie and reality TV star Ethan Zohn, who has twice beaten non-Hodgkins lymphoma, had been keeping his own list, which he has now handed over to Griffin.
Combined, the lists name 27 players with cancer, and 22 of them are goal keepers.
Griffin can't say why goalies are getting cancer, but she wonders if it's the field turf and the crumb rubber used to make it. She said goalies spend a lot of time on the ground diving for balls, blocking shots and sometimes ingesting the small rubber pellets.
"I lived in the stuff," former UW goal keeper Jorden Alerding said of the turf. "Four to five times a week I was on it for hours -- bleeding sweating, everything. Looking back now I wonder could that have been the cause."
Griffin's first brush with the unproven connection between cancer and the pellets came when she visited Alerding, who was being treated for cancer.
"She said, 'I just think it's something with the field turf. I don't know what it is, but I think there's something in those black dots,'" Griffin said.
The former Husky was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma during her freshman year of college when doctors discovered a large, deadly tumor.
"It was about the size, a little bigger than a softball, right in the center of my chest," Alerding said.
Alerding is now cancer free, but she still questions the health effects of crumb rubber and the lack of further research.
"If this can be prevented, I don't know why there isn't more effort being made to do the research and find out," she said.
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