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Synthetic Turf Fields

  • Synthetic turf fields are made from plastic, an unsustainable product made from a combination of fossil fuels and  chemicals, many of them toxic to humans. These multi-ton plastic fields cannot be recycled when worn out, and contribute to our worldwide plastic pollution problem.

  • Most synthetic fields use rubber from recycled tires ("crumb rubber") to infill spaces between plastic grass blades, cushioning the surface. Chemical toxins cannot be removed from recycled tires, and exposure to this hazardous waste material presents significant potential human health risks. This type of infill material has been banned in some countries.
     

  • Most synthetic turf fields contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances ("PFAS") that are required for the manufacturing process. These "forever" chemicals have been linked to a growing list of serious human health illnesses and conditions as well as environmental degradation. 

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  • Crumb rubber absorbs, rather than reflects sunlight, causing the field surface to reach dangerously high temperatures on hot days. This can create unsafe playing conditions, limit field availability and require large amounts of water to cool playing surfaces.

  • High lead levels have been detected in aging synthetic turf fields made from nylon and polyethylene. Sun and wear break down the turf fibers into a dust contaminated with lead that can be rubbed off onto hands or other parts of the body. Lead is a proven and potent neurotoxin, and children are particularly vulnerable to its effects.

  • Synthetic turf fields can be ideal locations for bacterial growth, and the harsh chemicals required to disinfect these fields present additional health risks of their own.

  • Synthetic turf fields require the use of pesticides to treat body fluids that grass fields take care of naturally. For more information, see our page on turf pesticides.

New York State's Carpet Collection Program Law phases out the use of PFAS in the production of artificial turf.

The city of Cape May, NJ, has banned the installation of artificial turf as an alternative to natural landscaping.

The Oaks Bluff health board on Martha's Vineyard voted down synthetic turf, citing concerns about the town's drinking water and federal regulations on PFAS. Years earlier, the school board had decided not to proceed with the installation of artificial turf fields, and upgrade their grass fields instead.

The South Orange-Maplewood, NJ, board of school estimate voted down turf, saying the project was not fiscally or environmentally responsible. They want the district to consider a natural grass playing field instead. 

The City of Boston has banned the use of artificial turf fields because of concerns about "forever chemicals" and their potential impact on the health of young athletes. 
 

The Board of Health of Amherst, Massachusetts, has voted against the installation of a synthetic turf field at the high school over health concerns.  

Resources

The Partnership for Healthy Playing Surfaces is a collaboration between medical, scientific, educational and environmental education organizations to help communities make informed decisions about safe playing fields.

The Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts provides extensive reports, fact sheets, webinars, videos, and other resources about safe athletic fields and playing grounds.

For more information on the scientific research currently being conducted on crumb rubber and its effects on human health, please visit the website of the University of Albany.

Grassroots Environmental Education has produced a Digest of Independent Science on Public Health Concerns Regarding Synthetic Turf which contains over 160 peer-reviewed studies on various chemical and other exposures associated with synthetic turf.

 

Grassroots Environmental Education also has a section of their website dedicated to managing organic natural lawns and landscapes.

 

Osborne Organics has been helping communities convert to sustainable turf management for over 40 years. 

Environment & Human Health, Inc.'s report on artificial turf calls attention to growing concerns about children’s exposures to ground-up rubber tires used as infill material in synthetic turf fields.

Synturf.org is a forum dedicated to information regarding the environmental and health risks associated with artificial/synthetic turf fields.

References

[1] Ginsberg, G., et al. (2011). Human Health Risk Assessment of Synthetic Turf Fields Based Upon Investigation of Five Fields in Connecticut. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A, 74(17), 1150-1174.

[2] New York State Department of Health. (2017). Fact Sheet: Crumb-Rubber Infilled Synthetic Turf Athletic Fields. https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/outdoors/synthetic_turf/crumb-rubber_infilled/fact_sheet.htm. 

[3] Beard, J. B., & Green, R. L. (1994). The Role of Turfgrasses in Environmental Protection and Their Benefits to Humans. Journal of Environment Quality, 23(3), 452.

[4] Jones, D. M. (2008). Initial Evaluation of Potential Human Health Risks Associated with Playing on Synthetic Turf Fields on Bainbridge Island (Rep.). Seattle, WA: Windward Environmental LLC, 1-11.

[5] Mcnitt, A., et al. (2008). Temperature Amelioration Of Synthetic Turf Surfaces Through Irrigation. Acta Horticulturae, (783), 573-582.
 

[6] Council On Sports Medicine and Fitness and Council on School Health. (2011). Policy Statement--Climatic Heat Stress and Exercising Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. (Rep.), 1-7.

[7] Ulirsch, G. V., et al. (2010). Evaluating and Regulating Lead in Synthetic Turf. Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(10), 1345-1349.

[8] Waninger, K. N., et al. (2011). Community-Associated Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Survival on Artificial Turf Substrates. Medicine & Science of Sports & Exercise, 43(5), 779-784.

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