The Controversy Over The Use Of Artificial Turf Heats Up

19 Jan 2015
Artificial Turf has been a hot topic in the news lately with the top female soccer players in the world protesting the use of artificial turf at the World Cup being played in Canada in 2015. They’ve even filed a challenge in the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, claiming they are being discriminated against because men play their games on natural grass.

|  “It’s tough because as female athletes we want to be treated equal and we want to be playing on grass,” American player Abby Wambach said.

In Major League Baseball Toronto Blue Jays officials are hoping to have a natural grass surface at the Rogers Centre by 2018. At the beginning of the 2014 season only two major league teams began the season on artificial turf, one of those teams being the Blue Jays.

The Controversy Over Artificial Turf:

Athletes tend to prefer natural grass surfaces to artificial turf due to artificial turf’s lack of give. It’s not as forgiving as grass making it more prone to injury. In addition artificial turf can get ‘hot’, sometimes reaching temperatures of close to 80 degrees Celsius on hot days.

It’s not just athletes that have issues with artificial turf. Parents, lawmakers and environmentalists are all starting to raise red flags with concerns ranging from ‘is it bad for the environment?’ to ‘is it toxic?’ to ‘does artificial turf cause cancer?’

Artificial Turf And Health Concerns – Do You Know What Your Child Is Playing On?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency lists on its website 30 chemical compounds that can be found in crumb rubber, often used in artificial turf. 

The following statement is also on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website:

“There have been concerns about the health implications of the use of recycled tire crumb in playgrounds and in synthetic turf athletic fields. EPA conducted a limited Scoping-Level Field Monitoring Study of Synthetic Turf Fields and Playgrounds. The purpose of the limited study was to test a method for measuring possible emissions from using synthetic turf on playgrounds and ball fields. The final report was issued in 2009 and, for the four sites studied, the concentrations of components monitored were below levels of concern. However, given the very limited nature of this study (i.e., limited number of components monitored, samples sites, and samples taken at each site) and the wide diversity of tire crumb material, it is not possible to reach comprehensive conclusions without the consideration of additional data. To supplement this study’s limited data, EPA met with state and local representatives in 2010 to review other available field monitoring studies.” 

Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (New Jersey-06) sent a letter to Robin Ikeda, Acting Director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), in October of 2014 stressing his concerns and calling for more studies. 

“It is clear that more data is needed to evaluate the risks that exist from exposure to crumb rubber in athletic turf and its effect on human health. Rubber tires often contain numerous chemicals considered carcinogens, including benzene, arsenic and phthalates, among others. Another question that remains is whether exposure to these harmful carcinogens could be amplified when tires are ground into tiny particles and athletes come into contact with the material on a regular basis.

Given that children and adolescents, who are particularly vulnerable to chemical exposures because of their size and are predominant users of athletic fields across the country, additional study of this issue is needed. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s Principles of Pediatric Environmental Health, “Beginning before conception and persisting throughout childhood, children are often more susceptible to environmental toxicants compared to adults…[and] usually have increased exposures per kilogram of body weight, compared to adults.”

Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) letter to Robin M. Ikeda, Acting Director Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, October 9, 2014.

October 8, 2014 NBC News reported on 38 cases of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and other cancers in soccer players, predominantly goalies that have played on artificial turf fields containing crumb rubber. The report acknowledged that no studies link crumb rubber to cancer, and that the list of cases does not equate into a scientific study. 

California Bill Hopes To Ban Artificial Turf In Schools And Public Parks:

In Dec of this past year Senator Jerry Hill introduced the The Children’s Safe Playground and Turf Field Act of 2015, SB 47. The Children’s Safe Playground and Turf Field Act would ban the contracting for the installation of a new field or playground surface made from synthetic turf containing crumb rubber from used tires in public or private schools or public parks until Jan. 1, 2018. In that time the state would conduct a study to determine possible health risks. 
“The Los Angeles Unified School District and city of New York have already implemented complete bans – this is just a temporary moratorium until a thorough analysis can be conducted,” says Senator Jerry Hill.

Artificial turf has been used in the United States years before Canada, which may be why we are seeing more studies and red flags coming from south of the border. What is clear is that we don’t know what the long-term effects are and more independent studies are needed.

Artificial Turf Is Not A Cheaper Option:

The reason we see so many schools, sports venues and parks going to artificial turf is the misconception that it is cheaper to maintain. The University of Arkansas found in 2009 that “it is a myth that synthetic fields require less maintenance than natural turf grass fields.” 

Synthetic fields need watering to cool it down so it’s usable on hot days. Artificial turf needs disinfectants and pesticides to prevent mold and bacteria from taking hold, sprays to reduce static cling and odors. It also requires drainage repair and maintenance. Artificial turf also needs to be vacuumed to remove debris, etc.

The long-term costs are less with natural surface fields compared to synthetic turf fields. Artificial turf needs to be replaced every 8-10 years. A natural turf sports field can be renovated at a much lower cost. You also need to dispose of the artificial turf /crumb rubber, which means knowing the regulations in your area, how much it will cost to dispose of it and of course, how much to replace it.

Crumb rubber ends up in landfill whereas natural grass is recycled by Mother Nature.

Artificial Turf And The Cost On The Environment:

Natural grass absorbs greenhouse gas and converts it into oxygen. A study done by the Athena Institute in 2006 concluded that a school would have to plant 1861 coniferous trees to offset the greenhouse gasses created by an artificial turf field over a ten-year span. Estimating the Required Global Warming Offsets to Achieve a Carbon Neutral Synthetic Field Turf System Installation by Jamie Meil, Lindita Bushi. You can read the whole study here

Artificial grass needs to be cleaned with chemicals, natural grass naturally cleans and renews itself. Grass decomposes and becomes part of Mother Nature’s life cycle; artificial turf ends up in landfill.

The debate continues, but here at Greenhorizons Sod Farms, the original green company, we are all about Mother Nature’s way. We grew and installed all the sod grass for the natural sports surfaces for the Pan Am Games. The President’s Choice Ajax Pan Am Ballpark, the CIBC Pan Am/ Parapan Am Athletics Stadium at York University in Toronto, and the Angus Glen Golf Club in Markham, have all been completed with the highest quality standards, standards Greenhorizons Sod Farms lives by.

Ajax Pan Am Ballpark installed by Greenhorizons Sod Farms.
Last Modified: Tuesday 23 June 2015 13:49
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