"A natural experiment is being conducted in which hundreds of thousands of young athletes who play on synthetic turf fields are being exposed to crumb rubber known to contain carcinogens. The results of this experiment will determine whether there is sufficient exposure to these carcinogens to cause cancer in the children who play on synthetic turf."
- David Brown, Sc.D., former Deputy Director of The Public Health Practice Group at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The increasing importance attached to scholastic sports programs has fueled demand for uniform, all-season sports fields, and many communities are considering the installation of synthetic turf as a solution. Today's generation of manufactured fields are typically filled with tons of ground-up truck and automobile tires. This recycled rubber contains high levels of toxic substances which prohibit its disposal in landfills or oceans.
Recent studies conducted in Connecticut and New York have confirmed the presence of hazardous materials on existing synthetic turf fields. 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.
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.