Many turf products are available and some are even advertised as “green” or “ecofriendly”, but it can be difficult to assess their safety for use by children. Read this entry to learn what chemicals these products contain and understand what the potential health risks may be
If your school, community, or business is considering installing an artificial turf field, it’s important to be an educated consumer. Many turf products are available and some are even advertised as “green” or “ecofriendly”, but it can be difficult to assess their safety for use by children because adequate risk assessment studies that assess all potential routes of exposure during realistic play conditions have not been conducted. This guide will help you dig deeper than the label on the packaging to learn what chemicals these products contain, how children may be exposed to these chemicals, and understand what the potential health risks may be.
What Is Artificial Turf?
Synthetic or artificial turf is a multi-layer product used as a surface on athletic playing fields, playgrounds, golf courses, and residential lawns. It typically consists of:
- A top layer of fibers usually made from usually nylon, polypropylene, polyethylene designed to mimic natural grass blades.
- Infill to provide cushioning and serve as a base for the blades.
- A backing layer to which the blades are sewn.
- A drainage layer.
- Additional padding layers in some applications.
What Health Risks Are Associated With Play on Artificial Turf?
Chemicals known to be carcinogenic such as heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (e.g. benzene), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and 1,3-butadiene have been detected in turf infill made from recycled tires. Further study is needed to characterize the complete chemical composition of infill made from materials other than tires.
Exposure can happen through:
Inhalation of chemicals and particles
Dermal contact and absorption through the skin or open wounds
Ingestion of turf infill particles
Exposure levels are affected by weather conditions, temperature, and type of activity (i.e. physical impact on the turf itself and ventilation rate of the individual).
- Heat: Because synthetic turf is typically dark and does not vaporize water, surface temperatures can get up to 60 degrees higher than natural grass and have been measured as high as 160 degrees on a summer day.
- Latex allergy: synthetic rubber contains latex in relatively low concentration; individuals with latex allergy should be warned about possible allergic reactions
- Contact injuries: Athletes playing on turf fields have been shown to have more abrasions or “turf burns,” which in turn can harbor infection. Artificial turf may increase the rate of contact injuries such as knee injuries and concussions, however data is conflicting.
What Chemicals Should I Be Concerned About?
Of all the turf components, the greatest concern for harmful exposures comes from the infill. There are currently several types of infill available, but to date we know the most about “crumb rubber” infill. Crumb rubber is made from recycled tires. The eco-friendly term sometimes used to advertise crumb rubber turf fields refers to the fact that by repurposing the tires into turf fields, hazardous tire waste is not going to landfills. However, because the lifespan of a turf field averages 10 years, the hazardous tire materials will eventually need to be safely disposed of.
Tire rubber composition is highly variable across manufacturers, making it difficult to know concentrations of individual chemicals. Below is a partial list of chemicals of concern known to present in artificial turf made from recycled rubber. Some of these chemicals may also present in artificial turf products that do not contain recycled crumb rubber, however manufacturers are not required by law to disclose the chemical content of their turf products, so this information is not publicly available. We will continue to update this guide as more information becomes available.
|Chemical||Potential Health Effect|
|Benzene||Known human carcinogen|
|Arsenic||Known human carcinogen|
|Styrene||Reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen|
|Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)||Reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen|
|Cadmium||Known human carcinogen|
|Chromium||Known human carcinogen; Respiratory irritant|
|VOCs and SVOCs (e.g. benzathiazole, hexane, toluene, formaldehyde)||Respiratory irritants or asthma triggers Neurotoxicants|
Some are known human carcinogens
|Crystalline Silica||Known human carcinogen; Respiratory irritant|
|Particulate matter||Respiratory irritant or asthma trigger|
Be An Educated Artificial Turf Consumer
- Beware of greenwashing: the use of terms like “organic”, “green”, and “Eco” do not guarantee safety. In fact, those terms are not regulated for turf products, so their meaning in this context is at best ambiguous.
- Choose companies that are transparent and disclose all materials. Note than an MSDS sheet does NOT disclose all chemicals used in the product. To obtain complete disclosure, ask manufacturers to list all components in writing.
- Contact us to discuss testing options and results.
- Consider the possibility of maintaining a grass field with an underground drainage system.
Tips for Safer Play on Artificial Turf Surfaces
- If you select a turf field that does contain chemicals of concern, post a safety warning on your field to keep players and spectators safe
- Avoid use on very hot days
- Avoid use for passive activities (i.e. sitting, lounging, picnicking)
- Ensure good ventilation of indoor fields by opening doors and windows and utilizing fans
- Monitor young children to prevent accidental ingestion
- Always wear shoes on artificial turf
- Wash hands before eating, drinking, or adjusting mouth guard
- Clean cuts and abrasions immediately
- Brush hair thoroughly after play
- Remove and clean shoes and gear outside before getting in car
- At home, take off shoes and shake out your children’s equipment and clothes outside or over the garbage
- Shower immediately after playing on artificial turf
- Vacuum any infill that comes into your home
Read our full artificial turf consumer guide