Synthetic Turf Sports Fields
Why It Is an Issue and How to keep it Out of Your Child’s School Yard
Since its development by Monsanto in the early 1960’s, synthetic turf has been a way to recycle hazardous used car and truck tires, keeping them out of landfills. More than 12,000 sports fields nationwide have used it to replace natural grass. It has also been used at playgrounds, golf courses and as residential lawns. Typically, it is made up of a top layer of plastic fibers designed to mimic grass, an infill that is usually “crumbed rubber” (ground up used car and truck tires -- up to 40,000 in a single field), and a drainage layer with additional padding.
Given the Sierra Club’s mission to promote the responsible use of the earth's resources and protect its ecosystems, the Group is opposed to synthetic turf and would like to share our reasons.
Manufacturers say synthetic turf can be used 24/7, in any weather, and is maintenance free. They claim it lowers costs, reduces the amount of toxic chemicals that must be used, and injuries to those that play on it.
Reality: A Danger to Human Health and the Environment
The crumbed rubber contains known carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors. These include; volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon black, lead, chromium, benzene and mercury, all of which would expose students to diseases if inhaled, ingested or absorbed through skin or wounds. Threats to the natural environment include a heat island effect, the need for frequent watering or water cannons (it can reach 180F or higher). Synthetic fields require the regular use of disinfecting chemicals (pesticides) to remove pathogens from spilt body fluid after play. The movement of these chemicals and infill materials into the environment (estimated at 12 tons per year).
Real grass is a carbon sink, and the soil it grows in contains bio-diverse communities of organisms that are essential for clean water and air. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria and other live micro-organisms help soil break down harmful contaminants such as body fluid spills -- an essential ecosystem service for a healthy environment.
Exposing people to a healthy, natural environment is a primary goal of the Sierra Club. Denying children and adults the opportunity to recreate on natural grass (also essential for many other living creatures) represents a significant loss. Given the toxicity, increased bodily injury (synthetic fields produced unusual and more severe injuries), temperature and environmental concerns surrounding the plastic alternative, the choice should be clear.
Multi-Agency Investigation Launched
New evidence shows higher than usual incidences of lymphoma and leukemia, especially in soccer players and goalies who spend a lot of time diving for the ball or nearer to the ground where they are exposed to dust from the infill. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have removed safety assurances from their websites. Both houses of Congress have called for further studies, and the EPA, the CPSC and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) have launched a multi-agency plan to study environmental human health concerns.
While initial studies are primarily focused on tire crumb, concerns are far-reaching and involve every component of the synthetic turf system.
In light of the serious health issues, professional sports teams and local school districts and parks country-wide are choosing natural grass fields over synthetic. Some are replacing installed synthetic turf (at great expense) with natural grass maintained using environmentally-friendly techniques, and some are bringing existing grass fields to a higher standard.
What You Can Do to Keep It Out of Your Child's School Yard
The Sierra Club Long Island embraces the Precautionary Principle, which states, "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.” Or in other words, when evidence gives us good reason to believe that an activity, technology or substance may be harmful, we should act to prevent harm.
We encourage everyone, especially school district decision makers to prioritize the health of our children and our environment when weighing benefits against risks.
Research thoroughly and use informational leaflets (see resources)
Talk to other parents/community leaders
Present the evidence to the administrators
Encourage others to get involved
Involve the local press
Grass Roots Environmental Education. https://www.grassrootsinfo.org
Safe Healthy playing Fields Coalition. http://www.safehealthyplayingfields.org