The popularity of team sports for kids and the increasing demand for playing fields that can be used multiple times each day have persuaded many schools and municipalities to consider installing artificial turf fields. At first, this may seem like a reasonable solution, but like many things that seem too good to be true, this one is. Numerous studies show that the chemicals that are found in the recycled rubber tire infill material contain many hazardous substances, including volatile and semi-volatile chemicals, flame retardant chemicals, heavy metals, neurotoxins and carcinogens. The release of these chemicals is well documented and is accelerated by the extremely high temperatures recorded on the artificial fields on hot, sunny days. In fact, temperatures over 120 degrees are quite common and can lead to serious heat related medical emergencies. More serious skin abrasions have been reported from the hard plastic “grass” blades and a recent study showed that athletes playing on artificial surfaces sustain more orthopedic injuries. The study can be found here.
If this doesn’t give pause, consider the fate of the fields when they need to be retired. Where does a football field-size piece of plastic filled with hazardous recycled rubber tire filling go? Into a landfill? Actually, many states do not allow used tires to be disposed of in landfills. Too toxic for a landfill, but not too toxic for our kids to play on? Major league players are weighing in on the issue as well, most preferring natural grass for health reasons as well as surface performance. “If a cow can’t eat it, I don’t want to play on it,” said Dick Allen, of the Chicago White Sox.