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Natural Awakenings Fairfield & Southern Litchfield Counties

Do Children and Synthetic Turf Mix?

Mar 04, 2016 05:11PM ● By Ellen Weininger

Intensive sports programs at schools and in local communities are driving the demand for sports fields, and many communities are considering artificial turf installations. Today’s synthetic turf field is typically filled with crumb rubber from more than 40,000 tires. This recycled rubber contains high levels of toxic substances that prohibit its disposal in landfills and oceans.

Recent studies conducted in Connecticut and New York have confirmed the presence of hazardous materials on existing fields, including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, acetone, ethylbenzene, tetrachloroethene, toluene, xylene and phthalates. The volatility of some of these chemicals can be significantly increased by high temperatures recorded at field level.

The potential health effects of exposure to these chemicals—including endocrine disruption, neurological impairment and cancer—can take years to develop. Without long-term field testing, no one is in a position to say the exposure is harmless, particularly for children, a uniquely vulnerable population. Recently there have been reports of higher-than-usual cases of lymphoma and leukemia among athletes using synthetic turf fields, especially soccer goalies. To date there have been no studies to confirm a link, but shouldn’t common sense and the precautionary principle prevail?

 There are other problems that also require consideration. For example, cleaning synthetic turf can require strong chemicals, and body fluid spills are especially challenging. There are no practical solutions for the disposal of artificial turf fields, and their installation means the loss of environmentally beneficial natural grass fields, which sequester carbon dioxide and reduce global warming.

Ellen Weininger is the director of educational outreach for Grassroots Environmental Education. For more information about that organization and its mission, visit