As artificial turf grows in popularity, questions about health risks arise. It seems as though every school with an athletic field wants to install artificial turf. Some parents worry about their children spending time on fields that may produce cancer causing agents. Professional sports experts suggest artificial turf may cause more knee injuries to athletes because of cleats on shoes sticking in the synthetic field (Patton 2). Health risks from artificial turf appear in several different forms. Growing on synthetic turf, fungus and bacteria pose a health concern because of infection (Durcholz 1).
The fungus and acteria seep into cuts and cause infection. Skin damage may occur more often in athletes playing on artificial turf compared to natural turf. Infections such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus may appear more common among individuals playing on synthetic turf fields. (Fact 3) At least, 276 Texas football players have been reported with an antibiotic- resistant staph infection. The rate of infection for Texas players is 517 for each 100,000 individuals. According to the U. S.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, 32 for each 100,000 individuals represents the rate of infection for the eneral population. All infill surfaces in Texas must now use special disinfectants in routine treatments. (Patton 2) Few tests performed on the widespread presence of infectious agents on artificial turf exist. Information available on indoor and outdoor synthetic fields show that one is no more likely than the other to harbor infectious agents. Another form of infection that affects athletes comes in the form of respiratory infection.
Spores that stir up from playing on turf with fungus growing on it, can be inhaled and cause respiratory infections. Allergies to materials in synthetic turf affect a small number of people. People with latex allergies can have a reaction to crumb rubber filled fields. (Fact 3) When the temperature and humidity rise in the summer, mold and bacteria grows faster (Durcholz 1). A factor, such as heat, is often overlooked when considering installing an artificial turf field. The highest documented temperature on a synthetic field reported at 199 degrees Fahrenheit, when the air temperature reached 98 degree Fahrenheit on a sunny day.
Surface temperatures on an artificial field at Brigham Young University records at 157 degrees Fahrenheit, when temperatures on a natural grass field next to it reads 89 degrees Fahrenheit. Synthetic turf temperatures average close to 30 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than asphalt, on a 94 degrees Fahrenheit sunny day. Watering artificial turf on hot days significantly reduces the temperature of the turf, but the effects only last 20 to 30 minutes. High temperatures on artificial turf fields on warm days could increase the occurrence of heat stroke and muscle cramping.
Heat from artificial turf not only impacts the athletes playing on it, but also the people around it. Natural grass cools the environment; it does not heat it. Synthetic fields do not filter air and water pollutants as natural grass does. Natural turf also akes in carbon-dioxide and releases oxygen into the atmosphere which makes a positive impact on the environment. Fatigue from heat and possible lowered oxygen levels can lead to additional injuries. (Patton 2-4) The many variables make it a challenge to conduct research on injuries (Fact 2). Artificial turf changes, as it becomes more popular and the methods used to soften it vary.
Even natural grass varies due to the type of soil and its moisture content. Research comparing injuries on new infill artificial turf to natural grass is limited. Data indicates an alarming increase of athlete injury on traditional artificial turf fields. Patton 2) According to a study conducted by Penn State University, synthetic turf with nylon fibers claim to be more abrasive than other types of synthetic turf (Fact 3). Some non scientific data collected by surveys of professional athletes gives some insight to the effects of artificial turf.
In a 2006 survey, 74 percent of NFL players felt that artificial turf causes fatigue. 73 percent of the 1511 NFL players surveyed answered they preferred playing on natural grass compared to artificial turf. Even with surveys showing athletes preferring natural grass, synthetic turf remains popular with fans and coaches. Patton 2) The idea of artificial turf at Alumni Stadium in Jasper, Indiana raised popularity with some football fans. One family even offered to donate the estimated 800,000 dollars to cover the cost of installation (Burke 6).
In the winter of 2016, an announcement made by the Environmental Protection Agency on the safety of crumb rubber prompted the Greater Jasper School Board to delay the installation of artificial turf at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium (Burke 1). Used tires are ground into crumbs and used to fill between the blades to soften the playing surface (Fact 1). Chemicals found in crumb tire rubber exist in roducts such as contaminated foods, automobile exhaust, water from rusting pipes, household cleaning products, smoke, electrical appliances, and fresh paint (John 3).
As of February 2016, no definite answers were published concerning carcinogenic materials in crumb rubber (Burke 1). Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium used not only for football in the fall but also for track and marching band contests. Children from Fifth Street Grade School also use the field for school activities. Football players from Jasper are not the only people who would be exposed to the possible cancer causing agents in the crumb ubber infill, all visiting schools, and any other students using the field would be exposed.
The School Board has decided to put this project on hold, but not cancel it completely. (Burke 6) The first well publicized synthetic turf was installed at the Houston Astrodome in 1966. The field, called Astroturf, has a rubber backing for cushion. (Fact 1) Over the years artificial turf has evolved and several different types of turf exist. Several options for softening the turf exist with crumb rubber infill, the most popular at this time. Some of the chemicals found in leach water from crumb rubber involve known or suspected carcinogens.
A study of rainwater runoff showed detectable levels of organic compounds and metals that appear lower than drinking water standards. Routes in which chemicals from crumb rubber can enter the human body include ingestion, absorption through the skin, and inhalation. A study conducted of tire crumb placed in an acidic solution to simulate digestion showed cancer causing levels at considerably below minimal risk level. (John 2-4) Laboratory studies showed off gassing of several compounds from outdoor crumb rubber filled fields. Pre-weathering crumb rubber for ten weeks outdoors decreased volatile emissions 20 to 80 percent.
Risks 1) Volatile organic compounds on indoor turf fields decreased over 70 percent after the first 28 days following installation (John 10). Findings from studies show that outdoor and indoor artificial turf fields do not pose elevated health risks from inhalation of chemicals (Risks 2). Most scientific studies found that artificial turf fields pose little or no health risks. Still people seem concerned about the health risks associated with artificial turf. California state senator, Jerry Hill, introduced legislation to stop any new artificial turf field installations in the United States.
Senator Hill expressed concern that an increasing number of young athletes have developed leukemia, non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, testicular, prostate, and other forms of cancer. NBC Nightly News reported a claim that 38 young soccer players developed cancers after playing on artificial turf. No scientific study has found a connection between artificial turf exposure and cancer. None of the studies test each brand of turf or test every potentially toxic ingredient. (Mole 1-3) Toxic materials are sometimes added to turf to treat problems such as mold, fungus, and weeds. Herbicides do not absorb into rtificial turf as it does in natural turf.
Weeds sprayed with herbicides absorb the herbicide, but any herbicide that lands on the synthetic surface stays there until washed off by rain. Fungicides by design stay on the surface to stop spores from starting to grow. Exposure to herbicides and fungicides happens when a person come in contact with treated artificial turf. (Durcholz 1-2) Paint applied to fields can also cause chemical exposure (John 3). Artificial turf is associated with several different forms of health risks. Scientific studies claim cancer risks from infill artificial turf low or nonexistent.
The studies identify only one carcinogen at a time. The combination of all the carcinogens at the same time cause the concern. High temperatures associated with artificial turf on warm sunny days can make fields unusable. Surveys of professional athletes suggest synthetic fields may cause more injuries and fatigue. Texas football players report a very high rate of infection compared to the general public. Even though scientific studies do not show health risks associated with infill artificial turf, it is difficult to deny the increase in cancers and other health problems associated with synthetic turf.