How Safe Exactly are Artificial or Synthetic Playing Turfs?

Feb 4, 2009 by

How Safe Exactly are Artificial or Synthetic Playing Turfs?

Artificial or synthetic playing turfs are increasingly being installed and used in place of grass fields. But how safe exactly are they?

Philip J Landrigan, MD, MSc, Professor of Pediatrics, the Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, had quite recently written to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and raised some concerns. Prof Landrigan is also Chairman of the Department of Community & Preventive Medicine.

Prof Landrigan was concerned because of the proliferation of such turf fields in recent years. According to him, there are now a few hundred of them in Connecticut and other states along the East Coast of the United States.

In his letter, Prof Landrigan stated that “almost no assessment of the potential hazards to children’s health of synthetic turf fields was undertaken before these fields were constructed”. In gist, he raised three main concerns.

Heat

Firstly, these turfs seem to trap heat. He stated:

“On hot summer days, when the ambient temperature is in the 80’s and 90’s, temperatures of over 150 degrees Fahrenheit have been recorded a few feet above the surface of synthetic turf fields – precisely at the altitude where children play.”

These conditions, of course, raise the risk of heat injury and even heat stroke.

MRSA Skin Infections

According to the Professor, in Feb 2005 in the New England Journal of Medicine, it was reported that “outbreaks of skin infections caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) have been documented in children who play on synthetic turf fields”.

It seems this risk is increased because synthetic turfs cause larger skin abrasions than normal dirt, which then raises the likelihood of infection.

Chemicals

This is a potentially serious issue, but not a well-researched one as yet. This is what Prof Landrigan stated:

“The crumb rubber which is a major constituent of the current generation of synthetic turf fields is in many instances made from ground-up, recycled car and truck tires. These recycled tires contain styrene and 1,3-butadiene, the major constituents of synthetic rubber. Butadiene is a known human carcinogen. They also contain cadmium, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons’ and other toxic and carcinogenic materials that are either added to tires during construction or picked up on the highways.”

“And finally there is lead, which has recently surfaced in synthetic turf fields in New Jersey, as a previously unrecognized hazard. Lead levels in several synthetic turf fields in New Jersey were found to be so high that the fields have had to be closed and decommissioned.”

Conclusion

While these risks may not be totally proven, there is still definitely sufficient cause for concern.

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