Synthetic Turf Concerns Won't Go Away

Synthetic turf has concerned politicians and consumer watchdog groups for some time over the potential health and environmental hazards from <"">toxins in recycled tire rubber, or crumb rubber. Crumb rubber is used as artificial dirt between plastic blades of grass on many fields. Now, Inside Bay Area reports that some San Carlos, California residents—the residents formed Save San Carlos Parks— recently sued the City for approving turf for a playing field there. That debate has been ongoing for about eight years.

According to the lawsuit, says Inside Bay Area, San Carlos was negligent when it authorized synthetic turf be installed on three and a-half acres of Highlands Park this March. City officials disagree, but the lawsuit contends San Carlos must “conduct a full environmental impact report” and delay turf installation, scheduled for this year, reports Inside Bay Area.

Last summer, two fields in New Jersey were closed down after they were found to contain unexpectedly high levels of lead in synthetic turf, raising concerns that athletes could swallow or inhale fibers or dust from turf surfaces. Three New Jersey fields were voluntarily ripped up. And, while the artificial turf industry denied its products are dangerous, tests confirm humans can absorb lead in turf. The tests conducted by New Jersey health officials found potentially hazardous lead levels on worn nylon and nylon-blend athletic fields.

Use of artificial turf has grown exponentially in recent years and is seen as a way to cut costs and water use. But, lead chromate pigment is sometimes used to make the grass green and maintain its color in sunlight. It remains unclear how widely the compound is used; however, the New Jersey Health Department found lead in both of the nylon fields it tested, which were AstroTurf brand surfaces.

Inside Bay Area says that the California lawsuit states that the city of San Carlos ignored evidence presented by residents against using the turf, which—in effect—ignored a required environmental review process. In addition to toxins, those opposed to artificial turf note that it can burn players’ feet in summer heat because of its ability to contain heat.

The Associated Press (AP), in a similar report, quoted Dr. Susan Buchanan, associate director of Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health and an assistant professor of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago as saying that, “Rubber tires are made with chemicals that are known carcinogens. The question remains, does that raise the risk for cancer for children? We don’t know that.” The AP pointed out that each year approximately 25 million used auto tires are recycled to make turf, citing the Synthetic Turf Council, in Atlanta, adding that 4,500 synthetic turf fields are in use nationwide. Connecticut and California have conducted studies on the effects of artificial turf on health, said the AP.

The AP also explained that recycled tires, used in the manufacture of turf and solid playground and track surfaces, contain dangerous metals such as zinc as well as toxic chemicals such as “benzene and butadiene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.” Those chemicals, said the AP, are found in exhaust, smoke, and soot.

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