Veterans Stadium Turf Linked to Brain Cancer Deaths of Former Phillies Players

Tests conducted by The Philadelphia Inquirer have sparked a renewed interest in the connection between artificial turf, PFAS, and cancer.

Veterans Stadium served as the home of the Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia Eagles from 1971 to 2003. In 2004, it was demolished. However, it appears to have left an unfortunate legacy: six former members of the Phillies have died from brain cancer, and it appears that artificial turf may be to blame.

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently launched an investigation into chemicals found in the turf used in Veterans Stadium by purchasing sealed 4-inch squares of AstroTurf that had been given away by the team as mementos in 1982. The laboratory tests found evidence of 16 different PFAS compounds, including perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The negative health effects of these two PFAS compounds are well-documented, and their use in other products has already led to litigation across the United States.

Products that use PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are associated with known health risks. Exposure has been linked to liver damage, decreased immunity to fight infections, fertility issues, several types of cancer, increased risk of thyroid disease and asthma, and increased cholesterol levels. These compounds have earned the nickname “forever chemicals” because they take an incredibly long time to degrade in both the environment and in the blood of humans and animals. The six former Phillies players who played on the artificial turf at Veterans Stadium all passed away due to the same kind of aggressive brain cancer: glioblastoma. Overall, the rate of brain cancer among former players that played at Veterans Stadium is about three times greater than the average among adult men. Scientists are saying that this warrants additional investigation.

Investigating the connection between artificial turf and cancer

The negative health impacts of artificial turf in particular have been the subject of several investigations and studies already. In 2014, NBC News noted a startling trend in cancer cases among soccer goalies. The article claims that the tiny rubber crumbs (pieces of old tires) that composed the fields used by these players may be the common link among the 38 American soccer players that had been diagnosed with cancer at the time of writing. Lymphoma and leukemia were predominant among the diagnoses.

Since its invention in 1964 by Monsanto, AstroTurf has been a mainstay of athletic fields. In the early 2000s, artificial turf evolved with the innovation of styrene butadiene rubber (“crumb rubber”), which helped provide the field with more bounce and cushioning. Crumb rubber infill can also be commonly found in children’s playgrounds. While some lauded artificial turf as an “environmental success story” – it prevents millions of tires from ultimately ending up at landfills – players note that the crumbs get everywhere, including their eyes, noses, mouths, and cuts and abrasions. This rubber is known to contain harmful heavy metals, including carcinogenic compounds like lead, chromium, benzene, nickel, cadmium, and arsenic.

In January 2023, a study published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials suggested that there could be a link between artificial turf and cancer. The researchers noted that “Our findings suggest that exposure to PFAS might increase the probability to develop glioma.” In 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report indicating that exposure risks from toxic chemicals found in artificial turf were low – though the report was admittedly not an actual risk assessment. However, environmental advocates claimed that this report mischaracterized the risks and failed to meet traditional standards for scientific quality. The EPA is still in the process of publishing a proper risk assessment.

Taking action against artificial turf and PFAS

In October 2022, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu declared that “no new artificial turf fields will be installed in the City of Boston.” It is the largest municipality to limit the use of artificial turf on the basis of its potential negative health effects. Other cities in Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut have also made headlines by banning the installation of new artificial turf in their fields.

Several lawsuits have already been filed against artificial turf manufacturers. In 2008, an attorney in California filed lawsuits against FieldTurf, AstroTurf, and Beaulieu alleging that they failed to warn California residents about the lead and other dangerous substances found in their products. The manufacturers settled the lawsuits in 2009 and 2010, conceding that they would reformulate their products to massively reduce the amount of lead and that they would replace older turf found to have high lead levels for free or at a massive discount.

Manufacturers of other products that contain PFAS are no stranger to lawsuits. Corporations like 3M, Chemguard, DuPont, Dynax Corp., and more have faced more than 6,400 PFAS-related lawsuits since 2005. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly every American has a measurable amount of PFAS in their bodies. The efforts to more strongly regulate or ban the use of PFAS in America are slow – typically, would-be regulations need to cite evidence that these substances are dangerous. In Europe, however, authorities are more proactive in phasing out PFAS because they have placed the burden on chemical companies to prove their products are safe.

Overall, the health impacts of products that use PFAS are wide-reaching and will likely continue to unfold for decades to come. The experienced lawyers at Pond Lehocky Giordano LLP will continue to monitor litigation involving PFAS and artificial turf. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with a quote from Phillies legend Dick Allen: “If a horse won’t eat it, I don’t want to play on it.”

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