Sports Facilities

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Report: Synthetic Fields Remain Safe

22 Mar, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Even with EPA Funding in Jeopardy, Artificial Grass Continues to Look Greener

If you’ve been waiting for answers on the safety of synthetic turf, there’s good news and bad news – and the bad news has nothing to do with turf itself. And the good news will help event owners breathe a little easier as they go about selecting fields for sports.

First, the bad news that study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on synthetic turf may be taking a lot longer than we thought as the EPA is currently threatened by the Trump administration’s plans to cut funding. And in fact, with plans to ban the EPA from funding its own science, and set new rules about how science can be used in policy decisions, the administration seems to have put the kibosh on much research. (An announcement on the outcome of the synthetic turf research initially had been expected later this year.)

But there’s good news – research is going on in other sectors. And it continues the trend of finding no link between cancer and synthetic fields.

A report recently released by the Helsinki-based European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has found no reason for parents, coaches or athletes to be concerned about exposure to synthetic turf surfaces and recycled crumb rubber infill.

In fact, the report goes so far as to note it “has found no reason to advise people against playing sports on synthetic turf containing recycled rubber granules as infill material.”

According to the synthetic turf blog, ActGlobal, “a letter from the Synthetic Turf Council summarized the study, referring back to June of last year when the European Commission asked the ECHA to evaluate any risk to the general population, including children, professional players and workers installing or maintaining the synthetic turf fields with recycled crumb rubber infill.

According to the letter, the ECHA found that “the concern for players and workers for lifetime cancer is very low, for metals is negligible, and for phthalates, benzothiazole and methyl isobutyl ketone, there are no concern.” The study’s results are consistent with those found in the recent National Institute for Public Health and the Environment’s Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (Netherlands) and Washington State studies.”

Though the agency did note hazardous substances could be found in the infill of many synthetic fields, the concentration of these substances is low enough as to not pose risks to players, officials, spectators or anyone else.

A full copy of the ECHA report is available here.

While some jurisdictions are still leery of the fields, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence in their favor, others are sold on their long-term benefits, including their ability to dry quickly after a rain and be able to host event after event with no downtime.

While there has never been a survey to calculate the number of synthetic turf fields in the U.S., Act Global had the following numbers for fields elsewhere in the world:

  • By 2020, it is estimated that 21,000 full-size fields and about 72,000 small fields for children’s play will exist in the European Union.

  • Based on industry estimates, the quantity of crumb rubber infill used on European sports fields is about 80,000 to 130,000 tons per year.

  • There are over 5,000 synthetic turf fields in the United Kingdom.

  • Crumb rubber granules are by far the most common form used in synthetic turf installations in the European Union. In some EU countries, crumb rubber is used in over 95 percent of all fields.

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