Is Artificial Turf Safe?

Athletes on Astroturf

What could be healthier than the sweat on your brow of a great game of football or soccer? Sadly, playing on artificial turf, especially the kind used on college campuses and in the professional sports arena, may be connected to toxic cancerous material.

Recent reports have highlighted the fact that the artificial turf used for many of our sporting practices may contain harmful chemicals that can wreak havoc on our systems [1]. Many people do not realize that artificial turf is just a fancy word for ground-up tire crumbs.

When the Houston Astrodome was built in the 60’s, Monsanto came to the rescue when it was too dark to grow grass inside the dome. The infamous chemical company created a plastic minced rubber carpet called Astroturf. Later it was created using tires, and became the norm for both indoor and outdoor sporting fields.

The average playing field is fabricated out of 120 tons of minced road tires [2], ground so fine that they release what one observer called, a “small amount of toxic, cancer-causing, mutation-triggering chemicals and metals.” Sadly, as with the case of many products approved by the U.S. safety administrations, these rubber playing fields give off dozens of other chemical emissions that are highly questionable in regard to their effects on the human body.

While many sports enthusiasts have applauded the turf for being more convenient than grass, as well as more pliable and safe for sporting events, we really must consider the fact that our strong, able-bodied players are breathing in toxic gases. Furthermore, do we really want our children to play and roll around on the same blackened road tires we get rid of on our cars?

Patti Woods, of Grassroots Environmental Education, explains why artificial turf can be so problematic:

    “Tires typically contain toxic substances which prohibit their disposal in landfills and oceans, so it is reasonable to question whether this material is safe for use on fields where children play.” [4]

What is truly disturbing is that the State Department of Public Health has claimed that the chemicals in fake turf are no big deal. This doesn’t surprise me given the fact that the sports business is a multi-billion dollar industry. No one wants to think that the players on their favorite teams are breathing in toxins out on the playing field.

Furthermore, the tire industry couldn’t be happier with finding a lucrative way of getting rid of used tires, given that they are so toxic that they are often-times rejected at landfills.

Despite the “a-okay” from the Public Health department, many environmentalists, sports players, media and policy makers are wondering how safe these artificial turfs can be. Especially when we consider that the average sized playing field could be emitting gases from over 26,000 minced tires.

Representatives from the Occupational & Environmental Health Center at the University of Connecticut have found that artificial turf may cause a risk to young people, children and babies. This information comes to us at the same time that toxic chopped tires are being introduced as ground-material for parks and children’s indoor and outdoor playgrounds.

Tire manufacturers are really cashing in, with each children’s artificial-turf playing field costing a whopping $500,000 to $1 million dollars each! The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station believes that if a child were to consume a mere 10 grams of the rubber crumbs, it would be over what most states call, “the cancer risk threshold.” [5]

European countries such as Sweden have recommended that the rubber crumbs used to keep the field pliable, not be used at all in new installations, stating that the substance is hazardous to health. The Italian Ministry of Health has similarly found that artificial turf may contain carcinogenic substances [6].

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station looked into the actual composition of minced tires, and found a whole host of chemicals that, when breathed in by human beings, may be causing detrimental effects on our bodies. A few of the chemicals “leached” my mincing tires includes carbon black, benzothiazole, butylated hydroxyanisole, hexadecane, lead, cadmium, and 20 other volatile organic compounds.

Measures You Can Take to Protect your Children

If you or your children are playing on artificial turf, take some simple measures to reduce your toxic intake. Below are a few things you can do to protect your family.

  • Make sure to thoroughly wash with hot water and soap after playing on artificial turf.
  • Avoid contact with the turf and your mouth.
  • Avoid playing on artificial turf when it is very hot outside, as this may increase the toxic emissions from the chopped tires.

These small measures will help minimize risks to toxic rubber crumbs. Encourage your school systems, parks administrations and policy makers to avoid contracts with retailers that install rubber crumbs and remove them from their facilities.

– Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM

References:

  1. Zhang J, I-K Han, L Zhang and W Crain. Hazardous chemicals in synthetic turf materials and their bioaccessibility in digestive fluids. Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology. 2008 August 27. 18, 600–607; doi:10.1038/jes.2008.55.
  2. Environment and Human Health, Inc. Exposures to Ground Up Rubber Tires. Artificial Turf.
  3. Jackie Pierangelo. Controversy brewing over artificial turf fields. Port Washington News. 2007 November 16.
  4. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Examination of Crumb Rubber Produced from Recycled Tires (PDF).
  5. Corrado Zunino. Synthetic turf fields will be cleaned up. La Repubblica.it. 2006 May 03.

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  • Jen Boda

    Its such a tossup. Chemicals from astroturf or the use of an amazing amount of water and fertilizers to keep playing fields green. I am not sure which to prefer.

    jh

  • http://www.dnassociates.com David Neault

    It really isn’t a toss up. The health issue is one of many. Environmentally, artificial turf is a disaster. It contributes to Urban Heat Island Effect and replaces the natural grasses carbon sequestration ability, air and water filtration and cooling effect on the environment. Good natural turf management is not dependent on chemicals. Weather based irrigation controllers, underground watering systems and the use of reclaimed water reduce watering needs tremendously. Actually, the athletic artificial turf wastes (at tremendous volumes) potable water! My blog has a lot of information on the subject.

  • http://www.triedtastedserved.com Gabrielle

    Very informative article. Never even thought about the dangers of playing on artificial turfs.

  • Beeswax

    Thanks for the heads up on this, I didn’t realize what it was actually made out of. Jen brings up a good point about the chemicals on the grass… how about a dirt field? ;)

  • http://www.ActGlobalSports.com Jennifer

    Though there are health and environmental impact issues relating to rubber infill used in artificial turf solutions, there are many new developments in the industry. Companies are now offering synthetic grass products that do not require infill. Also, you can find rubber infill alternatives that satisfy the same requirements.

  • Aaron Zhao

    Your news are out of time!
    The new generation artificial turf are totally environmental friendly and no harm to heath at all. new generation artificial turf needs no infill material so there is no crumbs at all. new generation artificial turf also called VIVATURF, you can easily find more information on line.

  • Mackenzie Smith

    There have been many advances in synthetic grass in the recent years. I too had heard about these dangers when my husband and I were looking to install synthetic grass in our backyard. I did a lot of research before making my decision. Though some companies do use these toxic fillers, others have made technological advances to increase safety. We decided to use Zero Turf, a company specializing in san diego artificial turf that contains no traces of lead or other RCRA hazardous waste heavy metals. Our lawn is not only beautiful and low maintenance, it also environmentally friendly and safe!

  • aronjon

    that might be true but, is the money being spent on the right thing? i thought kids went to school to learn for their future. how many kids will be pro athletes?

  • steve

    We have a 12 yr old son who is playing soccer. Every field in our area (Seattle/Bellevue WA) have these artifical turf fields. So first, this has nothing to do with if are children are going to be pro athletes or not. Secondly, it appears all the fields in our area that were built in the last couple years and the new current ones that have recently been built, all have these crumbs. And infact, the fields do smell like a tire factory. We also have a 2 year old son, and the last game he was rolling around and the crumbs kept getting in his mouth. Of course we wiped them out, but still how safe can this be? This is concerning and we may want to voice our concerns to city officals, govt agencies, and our congressmen.

  • http://www.socalgreens.com Andrew Fullerton

    With the right guidance of parents to their kids, artificial turfs are certainly safe, because according to a research conducted by the synthetic turf council, playgrounds with synthetic grasses offer safe, resilient and accessible surfaces that are useful for kids’ all year round therefore increasing preschoolers’ physical activity level.

    I think you should also consult a reputable contractor. I am from Chula Vista, for those who are looking for manufacturers of artificial turf in San Diego, I can recommend you to http://www.socalgreens.com. There services are custom fit to meet your requirements.

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