If you want to get a soccer mom’s attention, bring up the subject of artificial turf, the preferred playing surface for children from pre-K to college – or at least preferred by school boards and parks and recreation departments.
And there is the further question of who is responsible for assuring the safety of these fields: the Environmental Protection Agency? The Centers for Disease Control? The Consumer Product Safety Commission?
As an environmental health professor who has examined a variety of environmental problems and as a soccer dad who watched my son play on these fields for years, I think it’s worth examining the facts and myths about artificial turf fields and what hazards may or may not be associated with playing on them. Based on studies I have reviewed and conducted, I believe there is a potential health risk, because of the chemicals in tires, which are recycled into crumbs to support the plastic blades of synthetic grass.
Just what is it, anyway?
Artificial turf is made up of three major parts:
- Backing material that will serve to hold the individual blades of artificial grass.
- The plastic blades themselves.
- The infill, those tiny black crumbs, that helps support the blades.
Various pigments are used to provide the green color of the blades. These can include lead or titanium for the white lines and still other metals for school logos on the field.
Those little black crumbs are the problems. Tires can be toxic.
Modern tires are a mixture of natural and synthetic rubber, carbon black – a material made from petroleum – and somewhere between four and 10 gallons of petroleum products. They also contain metals, including cadmium, lead, which is neurotoxic, and zinc.
Some of the chemicals in tires, such as dibenzopyrenes, are known carcinogens.
Also, in addition to chemicals used in the manufacture of the tire, any chemical the tires were exposed to in their use can become absorbed on the carbon black in the tires.