I dedicated fifteen years of my life to the game of soccer. Now, learning that I have been exposed to PFAS and other toxic substances in artificial turf, my athletic career has gone from something that gave me peace of mind and numerous opportunities, to a scary reality not only for me, but for other athletes and communities.

Since I was 12 years old, I trained as a goalkeeper almost exclusively on artificial turf, practicing 2-3 times per week and playing 1-2 games per week. So for years, I have been exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of chemicals linked to cancer, liver problems, thyroid issues, birth defects, kidney disease, decreased immunity and other serious health problems.

Due to the texture of the artificial turf, I often got “turf burn” injuries, meaning that the “forever chemicals” most likely entered my body even more than just simply playing on it without open wounds. The artificial turf industry cannot make the turf grass blades without these harmful compounds. Studies have shown that the levels of exposure to these harmful compounds increase when playing on artificial turf.

While the artificial turf industry claims that its product provides more playing time in every season, they don’t disclose the harm it poses. Not only is artificial turf a fossil fuel product, it exposes us to harmful chemicals that get onto and into our bodies, into our water and soil. We have enough evidence now to know that we need to protect our athletes and future generations from these harmful chemicals. Athletes don’t need to play on toxic fields when there is an alternative. There are experts who know how to maintain high performance natural grass athletic fields that provide both sufficient time and space for sports, while also diminishing the risk of chemical hazards and potential lifelong hindrances.

I enjoyed every moment of my soccer career and I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without it. Being an athlete was a part of my identity, personality, and has partially shaped me into the person I am today. Now, knowing that something I once loved and centered my life around increases my risk of cancer or other serious health problems is a scary reality I have to face, alongside many other athletes.

Watch this short video with Dr. Philip Landrigan discussing the health risks associated with artificial turf: “Dr. Landrigan discusses Artificial Turf on School Grounds.”


Olivia Sousa is a Green Newton intern and a former soccer player and goalie.