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Chemicals

Synthetic turf fields contain a wide array of chemicals that are potentially harmful to young children and young athletes.

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Artificial turf is made up of several components, including a synthetic grass carpet with a backing material and plastic grass fibers; and one or more infill materials, used to hold the grass fibers upright and provide cushioning, among other functions. Infill is the portion of the artificial turf that mimics the role of soil in a natural grass system. Many artificial turf fields also include a shock pad below the carpet for additional cushioning. Each of these components may contain chemicals of concern. 

Infill - tire crumb. Crumb rubber made from recycled tires (also referred to as tire crumb) is widely used as infill. Many peer-reviewed studies have examined the chemicals present in tire crumb. Tire crumb contains a large number of chemicals, many of which are known to be hazardous to human health and the environment. These include polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); volatile organic compounds (VOCs); metals, such as lead and zinc; and other chemicals. Some of the chemicals found in tire crumb are known to cause cancer (1).

Infill - other synthetic materials. Other synthetic materials used to make artificial turf infill include ethylene propylene diene terpolymer (EPDM) rubber, thermoplastic elastomers (TPE), waste athletic shoe materials, and acrylic-coated sand, among others. These materials also contain chemicals of concern, although the total number of chemicals and/or the concentration of chemicals of concern may be lower in many cases (2).

Infill - Mineral-based and plant-derived materials. Other materials used as infill can include sand, zeolite, cork, coconut hulls, walnut shells, olive pits, and wood particles, among other materials. These materials are likely to contain fewer hazardous chemicals than tire crumb, but many of the materials have not been well characterized or studied thoroughly. Some plant-based materials may raise concerns related to allergies or respirable fibers. In addition, zeolite and sand can pose respiratory hazards. Exposure to some types of zeolites may be associated with increased risk of developing mesothelioma, a type of cancer. Using zeolite can be considered a regrettable substitution. For sand, it is important to understand the source and type of the material; industrial sand that is freshly fractured or that has been highly processed to contain very small particles can be a respiratory hazard when inhaled (1).

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Artificial Grass Blades - Lead may be found in artificial turf grass blades, especially in older artificial turf. As artificial fields and the elements fade and break down the plastic, it begins to powder making the lead more accessible. Lead is a potent neurotoxicant.  There is no safe lead exposure level for children. The plastic grass blades on synthetic playing surfaces have also been found to contain PFAS chemicals (per and polyfluoroalkyl substances), also known as "forever" chemicals that persist in the environment. Health effects documented for some PFAS include effects on the endocrine system, including liver and thyroid, as well as metabolic effects, developmental effects, neurotoxicity, and immunotoxicity. 

Shock pads: The Healthy Building Network (HBN) has reviewed chemicals used in some shock pads. HBN recommends, “If using a shock pad, ask for disclosure of the chemical content and avoid using in-situ pads or prefabricated pads made with crumb rubber or PVC. In-situ pads use a polyurethane binder that is cured on site. Prior to curing, this binder can expose workers to isocyanates, which are potent asthmagens and a leading cause of work-related asthma.  Crumb rubber contains a number of hazardous chemicals, and PVC (polyvinyl chloride) has a number of lifecycle concerns.  If pads are made with recycled content, ask for disclosure on the source of the content and avoid products with undefined recycled content.”

Examples of chemicals of concern and their potential health effects:
 

  • 1,3 Butadiene – human carcinogen

  • 4-(t-octyl) phenol – corrosive to mucous membranes

  • Arsenic – human carcinogen

  • Benzene – human carcinogen, developmental and reproductive toxicant

  • Benzothiazole – acutely toxic, respiratory and eye irritant, dermal sensitizer

  • Butylated hydroxyanisole – human carcinogen, suspected endocrine and immune system toxicant

  • Cadmium – human carcinogen

  • Carbon black – possible human carcinogen (makes up to 40% of rubber tires) - may be present as nanoparticles which are known to damage lungs and the vascular system

  • Carbon nanotubes (engineered nanoparticles) – may have asbestos-like toxicity

  • Fluoranthene – human carcinogen

  • Latex – allergic reactions in susceptible individuals

  • Lead – neurotoxicant

  • Manganese – neurotoxicant

  • Mercury – neurotoxicant

  • N-hexadecane – eye, skin, and respiratory system irritant

  • Octylphenol – endocrine disruptor

  • Phthalates – endocrine disruptors, developmental and reproductive toxicants

  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) – reproductive and respiratory toxicants, liver toxicants, suspected blood or cardiovascular toxicants

  • Styrene – reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, mutagen

  • Toluidine – human carcinogen

  • Trichloroethylene – human carcinogen

Links & Resources

Please note: Links on this page may take you to websites outside the Partnership for Healthy Playing Fields, and may express views that are not those of all of the participating organizations.

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Artificial Turf: A Health-Based Consumer Guide from Mount Sinai School of Medicine. 

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Athletic Playing Fields Report from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute

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Synthetic Turf Fact Sheet from Grassroots Environmental Education

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Report on crumb rubber from the Environmental Protection Agency

See also:

PFAS Fact Sheet from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute

​Public Records Request Confirms PFAS in Synthetic Turf from Non Toxic Dover

Athletic Playing Fields and Artificial Turf: Considerations for Municipalities and Institutions from The Toxics Use Reduction Institute

Citations:

[1] Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI). Athletic Playing Fields and Artificial Turf: Considerations for Municipalities and Institutions. (2020).

[2] Massey, R., Pollard, L.D., Jacobs, M., Onasch, J. Harari, H. 2020. Artificial turf infill: a comparative assessment of chemical contents. New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy. 30(1): 10-26.