"A natural but cruel experiment is being conducted in which hundreds of thousands of young athletes who play on synthetic turf fields are being exposed to chemicals that may cause cancer or other serious illness."
- David Brown, Sc.D., former Deputy Director of The Public Health Practice Group
at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The increasing demand for uniform, all-season sports fields has encouraged many communities to consider plastic synthetic turf as a possible solution. But problems with these fields - including exposure to toxic chemicals, career-ending sports injuries and heavy environmental impact - continue to mount, making the choice of turf over natural grass fields highly questionable.
Recent studies conducted in Connecticut and New York have confirmed the presence of hazardous materials on existing synthetic turf fields using crumb rubber infill material. Chemical toxins identified included the metals arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead and zinc, the chemicals acetone, ethylbenzene, tetrachloroethene, toluene and xylene, and phthalates. High temperatures recorded at field level can significantly increase the volatility of some of these chemicals, and the dust kicked up during play can contain significant amounts.
Grassroots' Executive Director Patti Wood explains the issue with synthetic turf fields.
While advocates claim the fields are safe, the potential health effects of exposure to these chemicals - endocrine disruption, neurological impairment and cancer - can take years to manifest themselves. Without long-term field testing, no one is in a position to say the exposure is harmless, particularly for children.
There are other problems as well: cleaning synthetic turf can require harsh chemicals, and body fluid spills are particularly difficult to handle. Additional concerns about the eventual disposal of artificial fields, potential legal liability and the loss of environmentally beneficial natural turf, which sequesters carbon dioxide and reduces global warming, has convinced many decision makers to reconsider plans for synthetic turf fields.