A former NHS chief has blamed his son’s cancer on toxical chemicals in artificial 3G pitches.
Lewis Maguire, 20, from Darlington, passed away on Monday just a month after he thought he had won a four-year battle against Hodgkin lymphoma.
His father Nigel, 54, fears his son’s cancer was sparked by playing on synthetic pitches.
Rubber pellets added to the pitches to give them bounce contain toxic chemicals including mercury, lead, benzene and arsenic.
Tragic: Talented goalkeeper Lewis Maguire, pictured above, died on Monday
Mr Maguire, who wrote to the Government demanding an ‘immediate moratorium’ on 3G pitches, told The Telegraph: ‘I’m not hysterical; I’m not somebody who says, ‘My son’s died and isn’t this terrible?’
‘I’m asking questions that nobody has the answers to. And in the absence of those answers, we need to have more research and take precautions.’
The pellets are made from old car tyres, and are feared to be sparking illness in players – particularly goalkeepers who come into closer contact when they dive for the ball.
Mr Maguire, whose goalkeeper son Lewis became ill halfway through a 12-week trial with Leeds United two years ago, said: ‘He used to come home with his kit covered in the stuff. We’d have to scrape it off.
Father and son: Former NHS chief executive Nigel Maguire, pictured left next to Lewis in hospital, fears toxic chemicals in artificial pitches caused his son’s cancer
He said: ‘Goalkeepers like Lewis dive dozens of times in training so they breathe it in or swallow it and it gets in their grazes.
WHAT IS HODGKIN LYMPHOMA?
Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in the white blood cells.
It affects around 1,950 people each year in the UK.
A common early symptom is having a painless swelling in the armpits, neck and groin.
Some people also experience heavy night sweating, extreme weight loss, itching, shortness of breath and coughing.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is most common between the ages of 20 and 24, and 75 and 79.
It has been linked to people with a lowered immunity, a family history of the condition, smokers and those who are overweight.
Treatment may include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, steroids and stem cell or bone marrow transplants.
Source: Cancer Research UK
‘The more I look into it, the more horrified I am. Anyone who thinks swallowing half a teaspoon a week of that stuff is a good idea is barking mad.’
It is feared the pellets – known as crumb rubber – may be accidentally swallowed, or become lodged in arm or leg wounds, when players hit the 3G turf.
Mr Maguire, 53, who took early retirement from his job as chief executive of NHS Cumbria to look after Lewis, is now starting a campaign to raise national awareness of the issue.
He has called for a moratorium on building new 3G pitches and wants rugby and goalkeeping training on them banned until more research is done.
‘If people knew where the black rubber pellets came from and were made of they would think twice about letting their kids train there,’ he said.
‘It is obscene so little research has been done. This multibillion-dollar industry is conducting an industrial-scale experiment on our kids – it’s a scandal.’
Professor Andrew Watterson, an environmental health expert from the University of Stirling, said: ‘If the proposal is accepted, this will present a test for the crumb rubber industry which has resisted calls for the lower toy chemical exposures to apply to their products. They view the step as unnecessary.
Calls for justice: Mr Maguire, pictured left with Lewis, right, wants the sports industry to investigate the use of rubber crumb on artificial sites
‘As we learn more about pre-natal and post-natal exposures over decades to many chemicals in many products and try to assess their cumulative health impacts, caution could be a smart move.
‘It would therefore seem to make good sense to adopt the precautionary public health policy now being advocated by the Dutch.’
A spokesman for the ECHA said: ‘The Netherlands has notified its intention to prepare the restriction proposal on PAHs in granules used as infill material in synthetic turf.
‘The ECHA will support the Netherlands in its work.
‘Additional information on concerns regarding PAHs and other substances in the infill material will be collected during the process and actions will be formulated and/or recommended as appropriate.’
A spokesman for the rubber crumb industry body the Sports and Play Construction Association said: ‘We are developing a voluntary industry standard that will provide minimum requirements that go above and beyond what is currently required for rubber crumb under European regulation.
‘Sport England and leading sport governing bodies all support this approach and will continue to work with the industry to provide reassurance that pitches in this country are safe.’
There are a number of alternatives to rubber crumb but they are, usually, more expensive.
CAN ARTIFICIAL FOOTBALL PITCHES CAUSE CANCER?
Mr Maguire’s story comes two years after British football chiefs were urged to investigate claims that artificial pitches are a cancer risk.
The warning came after University of Washington research suggested the cancer diagnoses of hundreds of young American players were linked to the surface.
The surface, known as crumb rubber infill, is used on thousands of parks, schools and professional pitches across the UK and US.
Typically made from crushed tyres, it is spread across artificial turf to improve the natural bounce of the ball.
The tyres are crushed into gravel-sized black pellets, which protect synthetic grass from wear and tear and allow it to soak up water more effectively.
However, studies have found a mixture of deadly chemicals in old tyres, including mercury, lead, benzene, arsenic and other carcinogens.
It’s feared the pellets may be accidentally swallowed, or become lodged in arm or leg wounds when players make contact with the turf.
The makers of artificial turf strongly deny any such risk, as does the football-governing body FIFA.
A spokesman for FIFA said at the time its medical assessment and research centre had already probed health fears linked to synthetic pitches.
He added: ‘At that time, the conclusion was clear – the available body of scientific research on this issue did not substantiate the assumption that cancer resulting from exposure to crumb rubber infill could potentially occur.’