Land Management - Synthetic Turf Fields
Synthetic turf fields are green in color only. Municipalities considering replacing natural turf fields with synthetic fields should consider all factors in their decision, including potential environmental and human health impacts. Here are some basic considerations:
• Synthetic turf fields are made from plastic, an unsustainable petroleum-based product; they are not biodegradable and cannot easily be recycled when worn out. They often replace natural turf fields which are living ecosystems, capable of sequestering carbon in their biomass, recharging and filtering rainwater and pollutants, and cooling ambient temperatures.
• Some synthetic fields use rubber from recycled tires (crumb rubber or styrene-butadiene rubber, also known as "SBR") to infill spaces between plastic grass blades, cushioning the surface. Chemical toxins cannot be removed from recycled tires, and exposure to this waste material presents significant potential human health risks. This type of infill material has been banned in some countries.
• Crumb rubber absorbs, rather than reflects sunlight, causing the field surface to reach dangerously high temperatures on hot days. This can create unsafe playing conditions, limit field availability and require large amounts of water to cool playing surfaces.
• High lead levels have been detected in aging synthetic turf fields made from nylon and polyethylene. Sun and wear break down the turf fibers into a dust contaminated with lead that can be rubbed off onto hands or other areas of the body. Lead is a proven and potent neurotoxin, and children are particularly vulnerable to its effects.
• Synthetic turf fields can be ideal locations for bacterial growth, and the harsh chemicals required to disinfect these fields present additional health risks of their own.
• One reason often cited in favor of synthetic fields is that they eliminate the need for toxic pesticides. However, properly developed and maintained natural turf fields do not require pesticides. See our page on turf pesticides.
For more information on the scientific research currently being conducted on crumb rubber and its effects on human health, please visit the web sites of Environment and Human Health or the University of Albany.