Plastic fields are highly problematic for athletes, taxpayers, and the environment alike. From injury risk, high temperatures and toxic exposures to exorbitant costs, plastic pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and more, plastic fields are not the answer to neglected grass fields. We can enjoy sports in nature not at the expense of it.
Do we really need plastic fields? No. Well-maintained natural grass fields are durable, drought resistant and affordable, can drain efficiently and be rejuvenated. Updated maintenance protocols should reflect current best practices – a nontoxic, systems-based approach that avoids synthetic inputs and runoff. The first questions should always be: how are the existing natural grass fields currently being maintained and utilized?
Why choose a more expensive, plastic version of the real thing? As The Field Fund is already proving, natural grass is significantly cheaper to install and maintain. According to UMass Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI), 25 and 50-year lifecycle costs for plastic fields, particularly with expensive alternative infills, are at least 3x as large as those for natural grass. Note: These costs do not include the $150,000+ shock pad now considered mandatory for any plastic field nor do they account for the high premature failure rates of plastic fields. Plastic fields financially burden taxpayers, indefinitely!
Cost Analysis – UMass Lowell Toxics Use Reduction Institute
How Taxpayers Get Fooled On The Cost Of An Artificial Turf Field – Forbes
The 100 Year Deception – NJ Advance Media Investigation
Grass vs. Plastic Maintenance Costs – The Field Fund
Aren’t we trying to minimize waste? Yes. It is estimated that over 90% of plastic carpets go into landfills. There is no recycling facility in the U.S. Each plastic carpet is more than 40,000 lbs of synthetic material (and the infill can include an additional 400,000+ lbs pounds of synthetic material, depending on the type) creating massive solid waste every single time the system needs replacement.
Greener Grass Awaits: Environmental & Fiscal Responsibility Team Up in Synthetic Turf – Recreation Management
Uncertainty Surrounds Disposal of Mounds of Artificial Turf in Cleona – Lebanon Daily News
The Artificial Turf Mountain – ZEMBLA Investigation
Plastic Field = Plastic Pollution – The Field Fund
Does anyone really know what the long-term impacts of plastic leachate are? No. Plastic has not been around long enough for science to identify the full impacts of its pollution. We do know that the plastic carpets are petrochemical products typically made with endocrine disrupting PFAS, phthalates and flame retardants, uv stabilizers, lead, and other heavy metals, and treated with herbicides and antimicrobial agents. And we know that as the acres of plastic "grass" fibers shed and break down, the particulate from all those materials migrate into groundwater and soils (and into our childrens’ developing bodies), until the carpet must be disposed of and replaced, and the cycle begins again. We also know that that they off-gas huge amounts of methane (20x more potent than carbon dioxide) and ethylene, accelerating as the plastic fibers fragment. By contrast, a healthy natural grass field traps dust and dirt, reduces pollution and runoff, filters stormwater excess, and reduces sediment and pollutants from entering waterways.
Toxic Chemicals Are Found in Blades of Artificial Turf – The Boston Globe
Toxic PFAS Chemicals Found in Artificial Turf – The Intercept
What’s in the artificial turf fiber? – Synturf.org
A report on the state of the artificial turf field at the East Somerville Community School three years after installation – Green and Open Somerville
Synthetic Turf Will Contribute to Greenhouse Gas Problems – MV Times
Did you know plastic field systems are not regulated for use by children? The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) does not regulate plastic field systems as children’s products. We cannot rely on industry to decide a safe level of toxic exposure to our children and environment. The UMass Lowell’s TURI, Environmental and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI), Mount Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center, the EPA, and the CPSC have all admitted that plastic fields cannot be described as safe. Mass tort cases are already emerging.
U.S. Product Safety Commission Stumbles on Artificial Turf – PEER
TURI Report: Athletic Playing Fields – UMass Lowell Toxics Use Reduction Institute
12 Reasons Why Synthetic Turf Fields Pose a Health Risk – Environment & Human Health, Inc
Synthetic Turf: A Health-Based Consumer Guide – Mount Sinai Hospital Children’s Environmental Health Center
Feds Promote Artificial Turf as Safe Despite Health Concerns – USA Today
Rep. Pallone's Questions during CMT – CPSC Oversight Hearing, Energy and Commerce Committee 5/15
Artificial Turf May Equal Real Litigation – Vineyard Gazette
But I’ve heard there’s science on both sides? No. It is commonly accepted that plastics pose a massive threat to planetary health. The studies cited by proponents of plastic fields reveal conflicts of interest and/or faulty methodology. Following the tobacco industry’s deceptive marketing playbook, the plastic field industry hires product defense consultants who cast doubt on any research that indicates health hazards of their clients’ products. The same firm, dubbed “rented white coats” in an investigative report, hired by the plastic field industry also defends materials like asbestos, arsenic and lead. Even a well known University’s research center has a partnership with the largest plastic field manufacturer.
We Made Plastic. We Depend on It. Now We’re Drowning in It – National Geographic
How Plastics Contribute to Climate Change - Healio.com
Synthetic Turf Industry’s Claims Versus The Science – Environment & Human Health, Inc.
Meet the Rented White Coats Who Defend Toxic Chemicals – The Center for Public Integrity
FieldTurf, Penn State Partner in New Center for Sports Surfaces – Penn State
Do you want your children exposed to toxins? No. Toxic PFAS chemicals were found in recently tested samples of new and used plastic field carpets. New studies have recommended that children not consume water with concentrations of PFAS chemicals greater than 1 part per trillion, calling the health risks greatly underestimated. One part per trillion is about as much as a grain of sand in an Olympic-size swimming pool. Further, the CDC and AAP state there is no safe level of lead. Under sworn testimony in March 2016, the plastic field industry admitted that their product still contains lead. According to the CDC, as the turf ages and weathers, lead (used as the color fixative) is released in dust that can then be ingested or inhaled. From its persistent use of ground tires to its largely undisclosed use of lead and PFAS, the plastic field industry has demonstrated an alarming disregard for human and environmental health. Other toxins including known endocrine disruptors and possible carcinogens can also be present in the plastic carpet, shock pad, and infill. And, according to owner’s manuals, other chemicals should be applied regularly to properly maintain the carpet. Anti-microbials (many of which have been banned by the EPA due to long-term health risks), herbicides, and biocides (used to clean vomit, spit, sweat, blood, and animal droppings), all eventually make their way into waterways and our children. Because plastic fields are made out of highly flammable petrochemicals, they are often pre-treated with flame-retardants. And children are more susceptible to environmental hazards because of their developing organ systems, immature detoxification mechanisms, proximity to the ground, frequent hand to mouth activity, and faster respiratory rates.
Testimony by FieldTurf Mid-Atlantic Sales rep – MA General Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee 3/16
Lead contamination in synthetic turf – Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Maintenance Manual – Shaw Sports Turf
Antibacterial Soap? You Can Skip It – Use Plain Soap and Water – U.S. Food and Drug Administration
FieldTurf launches fire-retardant infill and fiber synthetic turf components – FieldTurf
Are there other health risks? Yes. Plastic fields are made of petroleum-based fibers that absorb heat and can create a heat island effect, regardless of infill or frequent watering. The hottest temperature on record is 200F. Athletes can suffer from blisters, burns, dehydration, heat exhaustion and stroke, and even death. As fields heat, noxious materials can be absorbed in gases that can become 10-20x more toxic than the materials themselves. Players and researchers also note lower extremity injuries, turf toe, excessive hardness and slower recovery times. Healthy grass and soil, in contrast, provide a cooling effect, sequester carbon, naturally disinfect, and offer a range of positive benefits to physical and mental health.
Synthetic Turf Heat Evaluation – Progress Report – Penn State’s Center for Sports Surface Research
Heat risks associated with synthetic athletic fields – International Journal of Hyperthermia
37 Band Members Overwhelmed by Heat at Practice, Some Taken to Hospital – WSAZ
Maryland OL Jordan McNair showed signs of extreme exhaustion – ESPN
Synthetic Turf Field Heat Dangers Require Safeguards: Synthetic Turf Temps as High as 200 Degrees Pose Particular Peril to Children – Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
Lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association – U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team
Higher Rates of Lower Extremity Injury on Synthetic Turf Compared With Natural Turf Among National Football League Athletes – NCBI (National Institute of Health)
The Role of Turfgrasses in Environmental Protection and Their Benefits to Humans – Journal of Environmental Quality
Aren’t “natural” infills harmless? No. No alternative infill will solve the hazards associated with plastic fields. While some infills could be less toxic than others, this does not mean their dust is safe for children to inhale or that they adequately protect athletes from injury or heat-related problems. And because they are newer to the market, children and taxpayers are serving as guinea pigs. Most infills are used in conjunction with silica sand, a recognized carcinogen, and may be pre-treated with flame-retardants, anti-mold, anti-fungus, and anti-bacterial chemicals. They also require regular replenishment as tons (per field) of it migrate into the broader environment every year.
Prepared testimony by Montgomery Blair High School goalie 11/18 – Montgomery County Board of Education
Time Out Called on Synthetic Turf – New Haven Independent
Quinnipiac Will Spend Estimated $135,000 to Replace Faulty Soccer and Lacrosse Field – HQ Press
Sand Material Data Safety Sheet – FieldTurf
Artificial Turf Structure and Production Method – Geofill patent
GeoFill FAQ – Shaw Sports Turf