A number of questions arise when people are considering synthetic turf or synthetic playground surfaces or running tracks. Some of the most common concern health & safety claims, other health concerns, cost, and feasibility for high-use fields. (For additional information, please go to the Synthetic Turf section of this website.)
About 200 young athletes who have played on synthetic turf now have various forms of cancer, including Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, which is not common in young people. The synthetic turf industry continues to say that study after study has shown no proof of health problems, but any researcher can tell you that ‘absence of proof is not proof of absence.’ Problems with the studies they cite to support claims of safety:
- Studies have attempted to measure levels of specific substances in the air above the field or have simply analyzed what is in the crumb rubber, which does not match the way student athletes are exposed.
- Studies have not attempted to analyze health implications of simultaneous exposure to a mix of chemicals, each of which could be at a fairly low level.
- Studies have not considered that athletes are exposed through a combination of inhalation, ingestion, & dermal uptake every time they use the field.
- Several studies say air levels are comparable to existing ambient levels in some environments — but fail to note that the field itself will make those levels worse and that proximity to source is a key factor in health impacts.
- The ‘safe levels’ cited by many studies are based on the assumption that harm is always in proportion to dose; they assume that low levels are essentially harmless — but we now know that chronic exposures to even extremely low levels can be very harmful.
- We have yet to find any studies that even attempt to correlate cancer in young people with synthetic turf as a risk factor.
Assembling compilations or reviews of flawed studies proves absolutely nothing — it’s impossible to do a meaningful review of existing studies when none of them overcome the problems listed above. Based on the existing studies, there is absolutely no proof the fields are safe.
- Knee & Ankle Injuries – According to several studies, athletes playing on synthetic turf experience about 50% more knee and ankle injuries.
- Turf Burns & MRSA – There is no indication that the staph bacteria is more prevalent on synthetic fields, but the risk of staph infection comes when there is a break in the skin. Whether it’s a cut, an ordinary abrasion, or a ‘turf burn’, any break in the skin makes the athlete vulnerable to infection, including MRSA [‘Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus’]
A top-quality natural turf field that’s professionally designed and professionally constructed costs about half as much as a synthetic turf field. Maintenance costs for the natural turf are higher, but nowhere near high enough to offset the initial savings.
One of the most common justifications for synthetic turf is that a field has high usage. There are some real problems with this logic:
- Having a synthetic turf field means teams also need to practice on synthetic turf, thus increasing the use of the field.
- The cost for natural turf is so much lower that a school could construct an additional practice field and still spend less than the cost of one synthetic turf field.
For more information, please go to the Synthetic Turf section of this website.