Sports Facilities

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Adoption of New Field Safety Standard Comes as a Welcome Relief to Parents of Youth Athletes, Sports Event Owners

14 Dec, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Expected to Help Allay Concerns About Playing on Synthetic Turf

For sports event owners and even venue managers who routinely field questions from parents about the safety of synthetic turf youth athletes play on, a recent announcement that stakeholders in the industry are working together to ensure safe facilities should come as a welcome relief.

Despite the fact that numerous studies have been unable to conclusively prove a link between health problems and the recycled rubber used in synthetic fields and playgrounds, three key organizations in the sports industry (the Synthetic Turf Council, Safe Fields Alliance and Recycled Rubber Council) have announced they will work together to promote the information that all rubber infill used in such facilities built by their members needs to meet new ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) toy standards for heavy metals.

The announcement is intended to provide peace of mind for parents, who want to ensure safety for youth athletes. And for owners of sports events who are involved in venue selection, as well as the venues themselves, the new standard will, over time, help allay worry.

As background, ASTM International is the leading global standards organization, establishing industry-wide standards across a wide range of materials, including for all toys sold within the United States. With the announcement, all synthetic turf field and playground infill created and used by members of the three organizations will comply with F3188-16, the Standard Specification for Extractable Hazardous Metals in Synthetic Turf Infill Materials. This comes in addition to products already meeting standards set by the European Union.

There have been concerns about the safety of synthetic turf for about two years, following a television news report in which a purported link between cancer and exposure to the crumb rubber infill of synthetic turf fields, specifically soccer fields, and even more specifically, cancer cases reported among soccer goalies. Although the report clearly noted, “No research has linked cancer to artificial turf,” it was enough for alarmists to raise red flags, even to the point of having some municipalities considering a ban on building synthetic fields.

Following the TV segment, a report released by the Connecticut Department of Health found “no relevant health risks” to children and adults playing on synthetic fields. (An executive summary of the report can be found here.) Multiple reports are compiled on the website of the Synthetic Turf Council, showing research, specifications and more.

And, say industry representatives, the ASTM standard – and companies’ adherence to it – should help quell the fears of parents, athletes and others.

“Today’s announcement simply reinforces our industry’s commitment to safety and transparency, which we have also made clear through our support of the current federal multi-agency study,” said Rom Reddy, Managing Partner of Sprinturf. “At the same time, it is important to reaffirm that based on dozens of reports, including peer-reviewed academic studies and federal and state government analyses, recycled rubber infill has no link to any health issues. Hopefully this will go one step further towards alleviating any concerns around this issue.”

The ASTM standard will be applied on a forward-going basis; in other words, construction of new fields and upgrades of existing fields will be subject to the new standard. Over the course of time, as fields are built and replaced, the use of rubber infill that conforms to ASTM F3188-16 will become more prevalent.

Venues seeking copies of the new ASTM F3188-16 standard can contact https://www.astm.org/.  

A joint draft report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control/Agency for Toxic Substances and the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, assessing the human health and environmental effects of recycled crumb rubber used as artificial athletic turf, is due out by the end of 2016.

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