Common Exposures: Synthetic Turf

Current Issues

The increasing importance attached to scholastic sports programs has fueled demand for uniform, all-season sports fields, and many communities are considering the installation of artificial turf as a solution. Today's generation of artificial turf fields are typically filled with up to ten tons of ground-up truck and automobile tires. This recycled rubber contains high levels of toxic substances which prohibit their disposal in landfills and oceans.

Recent studies conducted in Connecticut and New York have confirmed the presence of hazardous materials on existing fields. Chemical toxins identified included the metals arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead and zinc, the chemicals acetone, ethylbenzene, tetrachloroethene, toluene and xylene, and phthalates. High temperatures recorded at field level can significantly increase the volatility of some of these chemicals.

While advocates claim the fields are safe, the potential health effects of exposure to these chemicals − endocrine disruption, neurological impairment and cancer − can take years to manifest themselves. Without long-term field testing, no one is in a position to say the exposure is harmless, particularly for children. Please see our fact sheet on synthetic turf fields for additional health impacts.

And there are other problems: Cleaning synthetic turf can require harsh chemicals, and body fluid spills are particularly difficult to handle. Additional concerns about the eventual disposal of artificial fields, potential legal liability and the loss of environmentally beneficial natural turf (natural turf sequesters carbon dioxide and reduces global warming) has convinced many decision makers to reconsider plans for synthetic turf fields.

If your school or community is considering the installation of artificial turf, we urge you to insist on one of the new generation of safe infill materials, or choose natural turf management instead. Turf managers who want to learn more about natural turf management may want to visit our page on professional training programs.

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

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