Lush green grass year-round has made artificial turf increasingly popular among consumers. But before you make the switch to the synthetic stuff, it is important to weigh both the pros and cons!
*For more information and resources on this topic, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Risks Associated with Artificial Turf
The following are risks associated with artificial turf:
Artificial turf and ‘crumb rubber’ often contains toxic heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, and synthetic rubber/old tires (!!). And chemicals, like phthalates, BPA, and PFAS are known to cause harm to our bodies, but are added to the turf anyways. Additionally, latex can be found in some artificial turfs which isn’t always problematic, but can pose an issue to those with latex allergies.
The synthetic surface heats up to dangerous levels causing injury. Throughout the warmer months, especially, artificial turf can become too hot to play on and contribute to burns, blisters, and heat exhaustion. Synthetic turf can become 40-70 degrees hotter than air temperatures on a warm day.
The artificial turf ultimately begins breaking down and releases harmful compounds which are then breathe in, accidently ingested, and end up in our waterways.
Certain artificial turf surfaces result in greater injury due to the abrasive nature of the turf regardless of the outdoor temperature. This is a huge point for me which I can attest to this personally. My daughter was about 2 years old when she suffered a “rug burn” from artificial turf at a local playground. To this day, that injury was worse than any injury from a park filled with natural materials.
Synthetic turf doesn’t support wildlife. Animals, birds, insects, and the rest of the eco-system all benefit from a natural playing field. When artificial turf replaces it, these animals are displaced and their habitat shrinks.
Artificial turf is NOT a win-win for the environment or consumer. Maintenance to artificial turf can be costly, but the effect on the environment is worse. Most artificial turf will not be able to be recycled hence ending up in a landfill and further disrupting the ecosystem in the process.
Artificial turf can melt if hot embers from a firepit or grill fall onto the surface.
Some artificial turf stinks (literally!). And all of those volatile chemicals are being breathe in by our children. Depending on the materials used, some odors never fully dissipate.
Animal feces (and odors) do not decompose on artificial turf as they would with natural materials like grass or woodchips.
Synthetic turf may lead to staph infections since the surfaces generally are not sanitary. Sometimes, companies will add antimicrobials and other not-so-great chemicals to ward off the spread of germs. Study results are mixed, but this is still something to consider.
Precautions To Take
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends the following precautions in relation to artificial turf:
- Avoid mouth contact with playground surfacing materials, including mouthing, chewing, or swallowing playground rubber. This may pose a choking hazard, regardless of chemical exposure.
- Avoid eating food or drinking beverages while directly on playground surfaces, and wash hands before handling food.
- Limit the time at a playground on extremely hot days.
- Clean hands and other areas of exposed skin after visiting the playground, and consider changing clothes if evidence of tire materials (e.g., black marks or dust) is visible on fabrics.
- Clean any toys that were used on a playground after the visit.
Read more here.
Alternatives to Artificial Turf
While artificial turf may seem like a decent alternative to grass, there are numerous better alternatives.
- Natural grass
- Engineered wood fiber (ADA Compliant)
- Ground cover such as creeping thyme, clover, or moss
- Pea gravel or other small rocks
- Native flower gardens and tall grasses
If you STILL choose to install artificial turf…
If you still choose to install artificial turf, there are some things you can do to lessen your risk.
- Be sure to ask the right questions! Check out Questions to Ask Installers and Facility Managers provided by SafeHealthyPlayingFields.org.
- ALWAYS ask the manufacturer to provide a MSDS sheet for each every layer of turf installed. If any material is listed as “unknown”, you should avoid.
Full Disclaimer and Disclosure here.
Sources and Additional Reading:
- Real is Better than Fake: Concerning the Dangers and Risks of Synthetic Turf Fields (A special thanks to Rockwood Turf Restored for providing this resource)
- Fact Sheet: CPSC, EPA & CDC on Artificial Turf Safety & Precautions
- New Jersey Work Environment Council (WEC) Fact Sheet | Be Aware of Artificial Turf Hazards
- The Dangerous Pileup of Artificial Turf
- Healthy Playing Fields Brochure on Artificial Turf
- Child burned on DC playground highlights turf, rubber surface concerns
- Heat Levels on Synthetic Turf
- Former NFL Star Blames Turf for Jameson Williams’s Injury
- Chemical Pollution Has Passed Safe Limits For Humanity
- Artifical Turf & Safe Alternatives (YouTube)
- EPA-linked consultant undercuts agency’s PFAS concerns
- Synthetic Turf: Health Debate Takes Root, 2008 | Environmental Health Perspectives, published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
- SYNTHETIC TURF INJURIES:HEAR FROM THE ATHLETES THEMSELVES