Health and Ecological Effects of Turf Fields
These are a recent type of synthetic turf, covered by a grass-like ground that strongly resembles natural grass in looks and function (STC 2015). They are said to function this way on a year-round basis in all weathers and for prolonged use without need for recovery. Because it is synthetic, it is offered as a suitable solution and replacement for worn-out playing fields. At the same time, it does not need water or fertilizer as much as its natural counterpart. It is also available in different attractive styles, which match the locality (STC).
Sellers of artificial turf fields argue that natural grass fields cannot remain fresh and resilient if used for more than three to four days in a week, under the rain or when grass does not naturally grow (STC 2015). The low maintenance and water needs of a huge turf field for numerous sports teams and games have raised the demand for synthetic or artificial field turfs in schools and parks. About 8,000 of these synthetic turf sports fields are installed and used in North American schools, colleges, parks and sports stadiums (STC).
For their attraction in water savings and low maintenance, there is the more significant question on synthetic sports turf fields environmental safety as a suitable replacement or substitute for natural grass (Cheng et al. 2014). A synthetic turf field consists of infill materials, which come from scrap tires. These tires contain many organic contaminants and heavy metals, which when evaporate or leach into rainwater, can be a serious threat to human health and the environment. Some studies found that concentrations of volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds in the air provide appeasing results to this apprehension. They concluded that the air over these artificial fields was not significantly higher than the natural in the background. The heavy metal concentrations and organic contaminants were generally lower than the regulated limits. These studies concluded that the use of artificial or synthetic sports field turfs does not expose users, such as athletes, to higher risks. Preliminary life cycle assessment even suggested that their effect on the environment was lower than that of natural grass fields. Further research was encouraged on the feared potential damaging effects of artificial turf fields (Cheng et al.).
Crumb Rubber Cushion
These synthetic turf fields are mostly cushioned with crumb rubber (Ginsberg et al. 2011). Rubber consists of components, which consist of poisonous and carcinogenic properties. Those using this type of turf fields can inhale these chemicals from rubber. Athletes are at a particular risk for their high breathing rates. Emissions from four outdoor and one indoor turf fields in the State of Connecticut were studied one summer. The study used different stationary and personal samples on-field and in background locations. Results showed that more than 20 chemicals of concern when associated with duration of exposure and activities producing greater ventilation among children and adults. Children were at a greater risk, especially on the indoor field. The study isolated benzothiazole, a semivolatile organic chemical or SVOC, as 14 times higher indoors than outdoors. The study concluded that the use of outdoor and indoor synthetic turf fields did not increase adverse health impacts. The results were consistent with those obtained from similar studies conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in New York and in Norway where synthetic sports turf fields were tested under different weather conditions (Ginsberg et al.).
Another study aimed at comparing artificial turf football fields and urban areas according to the concentration of PN10 and PM2.5 and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), aromatic hydrocarbons (BTXs), and the mutagenicity of organic derivatives from PM10 and PM2.5 (Schiliro et al. 2013). Results showed no significant differences between these concentrates in the urban location and in the football field, whether in warm or cold weather, during an activity or without (Schiliro et al.).
The findings noted significantly greater levels of PM2.5 in the urban location in cold weather; BTXx were significantly greater in the urban location than in the football turf fields in both warm and cold weathers; Toluene and benzene ratios were comparable to those under normal urban conditions; and PAH concentrations were comparable with those of the urban location in two different test periods.PM10 organic derivative mutagenicity in the football fields was greater but lower with PM2.5 organic extract mutagenicity (Schiliro et al. 2013). However, organic derivative mutagenicity in the fields and that in the urban sites was comparable. The study concluded that exposure to chemicals in artificial turf football fields was no greater than anywhere else in the city (Schiliro et al.).
A few more studies explored the bio-accessibility of definite contaminants in chosen samples of artificial turf fibers or crumb rubber in fill (Pavilonis et al. 2013). Bio-accessibility considers the maximum concentration of a soluble analyte in vitro synthetic bio-fluids. These fluids are similar to sweat, digestive juices and lung fluid to size up the effect on a person’s overall potential dose of these extracts (Pavilonis et al.).
No studies were previously done on the bio-accessibility of SVOCs or metals through all three exposure pathways, such as dermal, ingestion, and inhalation (Pavilonis et al. 2013). In response to this lack, one was conducted to determine if the bio-accessible fraction of metals and SVOCs in artificial turf fields was higher than the non-cancerous risk calculation for children and adult athletes (Pavilonis et al.).
study found no higher risk on health from artificial digestive fluid to extract metals and VOCs from crumb rubber in children (Pavilonis et al. 2013). It, however, found that PAHs had lower bio-accessibility and that lead and chromium were only a quarter and a half bio-accessible in the artificial turf (Pavilonis et al.).
Artificial or synthetic turf fields for sports and parks have been introduced to replace worn-out natural grass landscape for games. Games are good for health and physical activity as physical activity itself is a health factor. The rise in demand for these artificial replacements indicates the high-level of interest in sports and other games among the populace. Makers of these artificial turf fields and almost all recent studies are consistent in their pronouncement that the level of health risks that the components of these turf fields have are comparable to that in the background or other locations. It means that the use of these synthetic turf sports fields does not expose users to health risks any more than the natural environment exposes everyone to. The general public may relax its apprehension over the danger of exposure to them.
But even these studies, which provide evidence that health risks are not greater when exposed to these artificial turf fields, recommend further research to confirm and continue confirming their conclusions, based on their limited or representative samples. As activities mount, so will the demand and the production of synthetic turf fields. And the amount of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in their components will correspondingly increase. Future studies may find other aspects or details that will warrant a more vigilant use of these artificial turf fields or its complete stop. One current research noted the greater increase of a toxic chemical in children who are exposed to them. They have gone indoors and, with confidence on the negative findings and conclusions of recent studies, people may relax their guard. No one should.
Cheng, H. et al. Environmental and Health Impacts of Artificial Turf: a Review. Vol. 48
number 4, Environmental Science and Technology, 2014. Retrieved on November 4, 2015
Ginsberg, G. et al. Human Health Risk Assessment of Synthetic Turf Fields, Based upon
Investigation of Five Fields in Connecticut. Vol. 74 number 17, Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Part A, 2011. Retrieved on November 4, 2015 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2179769
Pavilonis, Brian T. et al. Bioaccessibility and Risk of Exposure to Metals and SVOCs in Artificial Turf Field Fill Materials and Fibers. Risk Analysis, 2013. Retrieved on November 4, 2015 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4038666
Schiliro, T. et al. Artificial Turf Football Fields Environmental and Metagenicity Assessment.
Vol. 64 # 1, Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 2013. Retrieved on November 4, 2015 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.go/pubmed/23007896
STC. Frequently Asked Questions. Synthetic Turf Council, 2015. Retrieved on November 5,
2015 from http://www.syntheticturfcouncil.org/?page=FAQs