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Dangerous 'forever chemicals' found in old samples of turf from Phillies' Veterans Stadium

By Jake Nisse and Alex Raskin For,


After a sixth ex-Phillies player died of brain cancer last year, an investigation into the artificial turf the team used to play on has found it contained highly dangerous chemicals.

The Phillies played on artificial turf at Veterans Stadium from 1971-2003, and the death of pitcher David West last year continued a worrying trend.

Now, there is evidence that the surface was tainted with 'forever chemicals - which the EPA said cause 'adverse health effects that can devastate families' - after the Philadelphia Inquirer had the turf tested.

After the publication bought souvenir samples of turf that had been used from 1977-1981 on Ebay, tests done by Eurofins Lancaster Laboratories Environmental Testing on two samples revealed the turf contained 16 different types of PFAS, or per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

University of Notre Dame researchers also found PFAS in two other samples.

According to the Inquirer, 'the rate of brain cancer among Phillies who played at the Vet between 1971 and 2003 is about three times the average rate among adult men.'

Other than West, five ex-Phillies have died from brain cancer: Ken Brett (2003), Tug McGraw (2004), Johnny Oates (2004), John Vukovich (2007), and Darren Daulton (2017).

'It's a cluster, and it needs to be examined,' Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel said last year during a network segment – four days after former pitcher West died from brain cancer at 57.

'The amount of incidents of deadly brain cancer are about three out of 100,000,' Siegel continued. 'This is three or four times that or more.'

His numbers differ slightly from those of the National Cancer Institute, which says that 4.4 people die from brain or other nervous system cancers out of every 100,000 Americans, according to data from 2015 to 2019.

There were roughly 175,000 Americans living with brain or other nervous system cancer in 2019, according to the NCI.

'We don't have a good sense of the amount that was actually ingested, or what amount of exposure is relevant to cancer risk,' Timothy Rebbeck, an epidemiologist who researches the causes of cancer at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a professor of medical oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said about the Inquirer's findings.

'We're never going to have a good measure of what the Phillies players were exposed to.'

Other than certain cancers, the chemicals are also associated with decreased fertility and immunity to fight infections, and increased risks of asthma and thyroid disease, according to the report.

In a statement, the Phillies said they share 'the frustration and sadness of losing six members of our baseball family to brain cancer.'

The team told the Inquirer it consulted several brain cancer experts who told them  that there is no evidence of a link between artificial turf and the disease.

Among those experts was Kyle Walsh, a Duke University associate professor in neurosurgery and pathology.

'Having six Phillies develop glioblastoma, on its face, seems higher than you would expect,' Walsh said. 'But it's also within that key demographic of who you'd expect to develop it.'

The report noted how non-Hispanic white men between the ages of 40 and 70 are most often the victims of the disease, while Walsh said he didn't believe PFAS could be a root cause of brain cancer.

The turf industry also insisted its products were safe. 'The materials used in synthetic turf have been thoroughly reviewed by both federal and state government agencies and are considered to be nonhazardous,' Melanie Taylor, the president and CEO of the Synthetic Turf Council, told The Inquirer.

'Going forward, our members will continue to pay close attention to evolving regulations and standards to ensure the highest safety of our products.'

However, in a January 2023 study published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, Chinese researchers found that that 'exposure to PFAS might increase the probability to develop glioma.'

Siegel also suggested last year that players could have been exposed to high-frequency microwaves from the radar guns used to gauge the velocity of pitches.

'The military has done research on microwaves that are given at very high frequency and a lot of exposure,' Siegel said, reminding the audience that five of the six deceased players were pitchers or catchers, placing them directly in the crosshairs of radar guns.

'You get hundreds of incidences of the radar gun being used during a game. I'm not saying that's what it is … but they have got to look more at the radar gun.'

Radiofrequency radiation is not believed to cause cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, but the organization says there remains 'concern that in some circumstances, some forms of non-ionizing radiation might still have other effects on cells that might somehow result in cancer.'

Radar guns are ubiquitous at all levels of baseball and were never exclusive to Veterans Stadium.

Larry Bowa was the Phillies' shortstop in 1980, and throughout the team's first decade at the Vet. He was close to both Vukovich and McGraw.

'To get that disease at such a young age, you sort of scratch your head, 'Something might be going on,' ' said Bowa, now 77, and a Phillies senior adviser.

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