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Health

Health concerns associated with synthetic turf fields include exposure to chemical toxins, unusual injuries and excessive heat. 

Chemical exposures - Artificial turf fields contain multiple components, including infill materials, synthetic turf carpeting, and shock pads. Many of these components can contain toxic chemicals. Athletes can potentially be exposed to artificial turf materials through inhalation, skin contact, and accidental ingestion. 

Infill made from waste tires can contain hundreds of chemicals, many of which are toxic. Some of the chemicals found in tire crumb are endocrine disruptors (e.g., phthalate esters); some are known or suspected carcinogens (e.g., arsenic, cadmium, benzene, styrene); and some are associated with other human health effects (1).

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Other infills on the market can be made with rubber, plastic, mineral-based, or plant-derived materials. However, none of these alternatives have been identified as entirely free of health concerns. Additionally, there are concerns about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in artificial grass blades.

Heat - Artificial turf can become much hotter than natural grass on a warm, sunny day because parts of artificial turf fields trap and retain heat. Experts note that high temperatures can lead to potentially life-threatening heat-related illnesses for athletes and other users. A number of studies have measured higher temperatures on artificial turf, as compared to ambient air temperatures, with some fields measuring readings as high as 160 degrees F. Heat guidance is often based on air temperature and other factors, not including the temperature of the play surface, so the risk to athletes may be underestimated in many cases. Some towns, such as Burlington, MA, have adopted policies to protect athletes from high temperatures

Injuries - Studies show variable outcomes in the rates and types of injuries experienced by athletes playing on natural grass and on artificial turf (2,3,4). Certain types of injuries are particularly associated with synthetic turf. One concern is increased rates of turf burns (skin abrasions) associated with playing on artificial turf. These abrasions are a risk factor for serious bacterial infections. The NFL Players Association recently recommended that all artificial turf surfaces be replaced with natural grass. 

A note about children...

Children are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemical exposures because of their rapidly developing physiology, immature detoxification and elimination systems and natural behavioral patterns. Pound for pound, children breathe more air than adults, taking in more of any chemical present. 

Children can be exposed to chemicals on artificial turf fields through inhalation, skin absorption and accidental ingestion, all of which can easily occur during normal sports activities. 

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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Position Statement on the use of Recycled Tires in Artificial Turf Surfaces from Mount Sinai School of Medicine

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Artificial Turf: A Health-based Consumer Guide from Mount Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center

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Athletic Playing Fields Report from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute

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Fact Sheet on Synthetic Turf from Grassroots Environmental Education

See also:

Keep Playgrounds Free of Toxic Recycled Tire Mulch from Clean Water Action Connecticut

Sports Turf Alternatives Assessment: Preliminary Results. Physical and Biological Hazards from Toxics Use Reduction Institute. 

References:

[1] US EPA. December 2016. Federal Research Action Plan on Recycled Tire Crumb Used on Playing Fields and Playgrounds: Status Report. EPA/600/R-16/364. Accessed at https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016- 12/documents/federal_research_action_plan_on_recycled_tire_crumb_used_on_playing_fields_and_playgrounds_status_report.pdf, February 6, 2017. 

 

[2] Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). Safety Study of Artificial Turf Containing Crumb Rubber Infill Made From Recycled Tires: Measurements of Chemicals and Particulates in the Air, Bacteria in the Turf, and Skin Abrasions Caused by Contact with the Surface. (2010).

 

[3] Meyers, M. C. & Barnhill, B. S. Incidence, causes, and severity of high school football injuries on FieldTurf versus natural grass: A 5-year prospective study. American Journal of Sports Medicine 32, 1626– 1638 (2004).

 

[4] Dragoo, J. L. & Braun, H. J. The effect of playing surface on injury rate: A review of the current literature. Sports Medicine 40, 981–990 (2010).