Synthetic Turf Fields
Synthetic turf fields are green in color only. Municipalities considering replacing natural grass fields with synthetic turf fields should consider all factors in their decision, including potential environmental and human health impacts. Here are some basic considerations:
Synthetic turf fields are made from plastic, an unsustainable petroleum-based product; they are not biodegradable and cannot easily be recycled when worn out. They often replace natural turf fields which are living ecosystems, capable of sequestering carbon in their biomass, recharging and filtering rainwater and pollutants, and cooling ambient temperatures.
Some 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.
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.
One reason often cited in favor of synthetic fields is that they eliminate the need for toxic pesticides. However, properly developed and maintained natural turf fields do not require pesticides. See our page on turf pesticides.
Sag Harbor, NY, recently voted to scrap plans for an artificial turf field based on health concerns. See this local news article about how they did it.
In the Borough of Glen Rock, NJ public opposition to a bond-funded synthetic turf forced a November 2014 referendum, and the field was overwhelmingly rejected by voters.
The school system of Martha's Vineyard decided not to proceed with the installation of artificial turf fields, and upgrade their grass fields instead. See the news coverage.
For more information on the scientific research currently being conducted on crumb rubber and its effects on human health, please visit the web site 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.
 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.
 New York State Department of Health. (2017). Fact Sheet: Crumb-Rubber Infilled Synthetic Turf Athletic Fields.
 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.
 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.
 Mcnitt, A., et al. (2008). Temperature Amelioration Of Synthetic Turf Surfaces Through Irrigation. Acta Horticulturae, (783), 573-582.
 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.
 Ulirsch, G. V., et al. (2010). Evaluating and Regulating Lead in Synthetic Turf. Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(10), 1345-1349.
 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.