[Updated March 18, 2015]
The following open letter is prompted by several stories in the Express-Timesand Morning Call reporting that almost all of our high schools already have synthetic turf fields (as do most colleges and universities in the Lehigh Valley)—and the few exceptions are planning to add synthetic turf in the near future. In addition, at least two municipalities are planning to install synthetic turf at recreation facilities.
We think it’s important to make sure decision-makers, parents, and students are aware that there are some serious very serious health concerns. We have notified several institutions and municipalities and publish this Open Letter so others will be aware of the risks before they start down this path. [If you have questions or want more information, email us at email@example.com.]
At this point, there are few absolute answers, but many reasons to be cautious. In addition to a reported link to lymphoma—a serious blood cancer—other known health and safety concerns include the following:
- Infill materials involving ‘crumb rubber’ contain a variety of compounds that are known to be harmful. These include black carbon, poly-aromatic hydrocarbons [PAH] & volatile organic compounds [VOC], and phenols, all of which are known to have serious health impacts — and release of these compounds is heightened in warm weather. In addition, lead, zinc, and other hazardous metals such as selenium and cadmium are present in some infill materials and can leach from the fields and affect those who use them — and pollute air and water as well. Release of these compounds is heightened by warm conditions.
- Playing area temperatures in the summer can be dangerous: Brigham Young University recorded surface temperatures over 150°F (~65°C), far above a safe surface temperature of 120°F (~49°C). These temperatures validate concerns about heat stress or heat stroke and add the possibility of burns from contact with the surface.
- Modern synthetic turf causes serious ‘turf burns’ for athletes—if not treated immediately & properly, these burns can lead to permanent scarring and serious infection, including antibiotic-resistant staph infections such as MRSA.
[Also see Turf Burns – Treatment page.]
- Contact with fine particles from the infill material can produce severe irritation of the respiratory system, eyes, skin, and mucous membranes, in addition to systemic effects on the liver and kidneys. When this dust becomes airborne, it can also affect spectators and others who happen to be near.
- Infill material is known to contain toxins, carcinogens, teratogens, and endocrine disruptors—and those who use the field often inhale and ingest particles of the infill material or absorb the toxins from skin contact—especially if the skin surface is broken by even minor turf burns.
- Because synthetic turf is flammable, it is often treated with flame retardants. These are known to cause reproductive disorders, birth defects, infertility, and developmental disorders.
- Synthetic Turf also has global warming impacts, with average emissions estimated at about 55 tons per year over a 10-year life, compared to a -10 impact from natural turf.
Since it is clear that installing synthetic turf may present serious risks to human health and the environment, the precautionary principle requires us to defer such action.
If it is decided to proceed with synthetic turf fields despite the known hazards, we think it is extremely important to consider the following:
1. Because of the many serious concerns associated with crumb rubber infill, we urge rejection of any proposals that use crumb rubber infill or other rubber componds, including ‘Nike Grind’.
2. Because public fields will likely be used by leagues, informal groups, and members of the general public—including children—it is essential to make sure users and parents have clear information about the health hazards and how to protect their health. This may require clear signage and warnings.
3. To protect public safety in the summer, the fields should be closed whenever the surface temperature exceeds a safe level. This means not only preventing organized games, but making sure that children do not wander onto the hot surface.
4. Because vendors have been known to exaggerate cost savings, they should be required to provide detailed written information to back up any claims about health, safety, or reduced maintenance requirements or costs. For example, some studies comparing synthetic to natural turf have shown that costs for synthetic turf can be higher than natural turf! (Potential vendors should be required to present any claims and responses to questions in writing.)
Ongoing costs may include the need to inform the public and anyone who uses the fields about how to protect themselves and their children, to develop liability waivers for leagues that use the field, and specialized training for EMS personnel. [Also see Turf Burns – Treatment page.]
5. In many or most cases, synthetic turf ‘vendors’ act as brokers, contracting with other parties to provide design services, manufacture the turf, deliver the infill material, and install the drainage systems and turf. This makes it difficult to rely on any assurances or even written warranties, so it is important to consider how to protect against claims that may arise.
We will be presenting the results of the study in April 2015; we can also provide more information to you then.
- ‘How Safe Is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On?’ (NBC News, 8 October 2014)
- ‘Are artificial turf fields carcinogenic?‘ (Saratoga Falcon | Saratoga HS, November 2013)
- ‘Toxicologist unsurprised by artificial turf-cancer report’ (Soccer Wire, 14 November 2014)
- ‘Be Aware of Artificial Turf Hazards’ fact sheet (NJ Work Environment Council)
- ‘What to Know About Artificial Turf Fields’ fact sheet (Mt. Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center, 2011)
- Recommendations for Use [excerpt from Artificial Turf report] (EHHI, 2007) [link to Full Report]
- Natural Grass and Artificial Turf: Separating Myths and Facts (Turfgrass Resource Center)
[Note: This informative booklet comes from the Turfgrass Producers association, so it may reflect some bias. We will be reviewing their claims and calculations in detail, but have not yet had time to do so.]
[If you have questions or want more information, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.]