About turf fields
You have probably, sometime in your life, played or watched a sport on an artificial turf field. They are those fresh-looking fields that are just so darn aesthetically pleasing. Typical artificial turf fields have three main layers. The top layer consists of plastic blades that simulate the look of regular grass, the second layer is black turf pellets that support the plastic grass and help provide cushion and support, and the bottom layer of carpet helps with drainage (Cheng et al., 2014). The second layer is the layer of concern. Those pesky little black pellets, you know the ones, seem to get everywhere! No matter how hard you try, you just can’t get seem to get rid of all of them. Also if you’ve ever slid on turf field to stop a ball or catch a frisbee, you know that those pesky pellets stick to your wounds like glue. Even though they may just seem really annoying, these turf pellets are a real reason for concern.
Why are they bad?
Turf pellets are made from recycled tires, and although that seems like they are environmentally friendly, are they human friendly? Well, turf pellets consist of a multitude of different metals, including zinc, magnesium, aluminum and barium, with Zinc usually being found at higher concentrations than the others (Bocca et al., 2009). It has also been proven that these tiny pellets contain numerous amounts of air pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs (Cheng et al., 2014). Additionally, there is also the presence of SVOCs, or semivolatile organic compounds, which are usually found because of the decomposition of the tires into pellets (Cheng et al., 2014). Those are a lot of big words, but just know that none of these substances are great for humans to be exposed to, especially when playing sports where you are bound to be breathing in at higher-than-usual rates.
The concern over turf fields has actually grown over the years, stemming from the increased incidences of cancer in goalkeepers (Luzer, 2016). This has been quite alarming, and here is a link to that article if you are interested in reading more: https://blog.oup.com/2017/01/artificial-turf-cancer-risk/ The whole job of a goalkeeper is to dive onto the turf to stop goals, so they are regularly exposed to the turf pellets (Luzer, 2016, p. 3). There have also been numerous studies showing that these harmful substances are able to get into the systems of people through different pathways. For an example, Van Rooij & Jongeneelen had seven football players play a match of football on a turf field and ensured that the football players came in contact a lot with the turf, through sliding and crawling. The football players had two-and-a-half hours of playtime, and their urine was tested afterward for pyrene, a substance that is always found in a PAH mixture (Van Rooij & Jongeneelen, 2009). They found that PAHs were present in the urine. This is just one example of how these substances, even at low doses, can get into humans.
However, have no fear, there are alternatives to typical artificial turf fields! If you want to install your own turf into your backyard, or are in charge of the athletics department and are planning on re-turfing, don’t go for the regular artificial turf field that has all those suspicious substances. Go for a more human-friendly option! There are plenty of other options so that you don’t have to be worried about what your loved ones are playing and hanging out on. Why use artificial turf fields, with all of those toxic substances, when there are so many other options out there?
Here are some of those options:
Option 1: Pure Cork
This first option is an all-cork option, with the previous rubber pellets being replaced by cork. Cork is a great option because cork comes from trees and therefore is a completely pure and natural option. This cork comes from indigenous oak trees, and it’s great because this option also does not require watering the field (“PFC Pure Cork ProFormance…”). The trees are also not harmed from the harvesting at all, which is great because you don’t have to feel guilty. The pricing for this option is 65 cents per pound and ends up being around $10,400,000 for a football field. With this option, it’s nice to not have to worry about all the substances in those tiny pellets. The cork is all natural and a great option if you’re looking for an alternative to those suspicious black pellets. Who knew cork could be so useful!
Option 2: Geofill natural turf
This is another great option. This one is also a very organic option that utilizes coconut and its fibers (found in the ‘geofill’). The coconut fibers are an optimal option because they are going to be more resistant to things like mold, and they help keep the whole turf system cool (“Elite Performance by Nature…”). They help keep the whole system cooler than regular synthetic turf fields through a system called evaporative cooling. Also, the geofill can absorb and retain a substantial amount of water, keeping the area from getting waterlogged during periods of lots of rain. This is a nice alternative to the traditional artificial turf fields because those tend to heat up easily, which isn’t great for the athletes who are already hot enough from running around and being active. Unfortunately the pricing for this option was not available on the website since you have to be fully intending on buying the geo-infill to get price info, but if you’re very much interested, go ahead and try this option out!
Option 3: Specific-rubber infill
A final option that is also great is a new type of artificial turf field that is becoming more common that mimics the look of the original problematic turf field we talked about above (the first picture). However, this new type doesn’t use the typical recycled tire for the crumb infill (the pellets that get everywhere), but instead uses a type of plastic for the infill. This plastic is called thermoplastic elastomer, or T.P.E for short, and is made of a mix of synthetic materials. The original tire rubber is not a good option in the first place because tire rubber is created to improve the performance of cars on asphalt, which presents a very different set of demands than what athletes need to play on turf fields. Using T.P.E. cuts out a lot of the unnecessary harmful substances that were originally in the crumb rubber infill, making it a safer option for you if you want to install your own turf field. Although this option no longer promotes the recycling aspect of reusing tires, it is going to be better option. This option is going to be the most expensive, at 75 cents to a dollar per pound. This is going to be a lot more expensive than the typical artificial turf field but although expensive now, it could be worth it in the long-run!
Now that you have a few more options, don’t settle for that artificial turf field that could be causing harm to your health! Go with one of these safer options and don’t be worried.
Bocca, B., Forte, G., Petrucci, F., Costantini, S., & Izzo, P. (2009). Metals contained and leached from rubber granulates used in synthetic turf areas. Science of the Total Environment, 2183–2190.
Cheng, H., Hu, Y., & Reinhard, M. (2014). Environmental and Health Impacts of Artificial Turf:A Review. Environmental Science & Technology, 2114–2129.
Elite Performance by Nature: The Natural choice. Retrieved fromhttps://www.shawsportsturf.com/geofill/
Geofill system layers diagram [Photograph] Retrieved fromhttps://www.shawsportsturf.com/geofill/
[Gif of lady freaking out] Retrieved from https://giphy.com/gifs/oprah-E7pgTuBMTfDd6/links
[Image of ‘No Rubber’ sign] Retrieved fromhttps://depositphotos.com/140737878/stock-illustration-no-rubber-rubber-stamps.html
Luzer, D. (2016). Artificial Turf and Cancer Risk. National Cancer Institute, 108, 2–4.
Mcdonald, Thomas [Photograph of hand and artificial turf field] Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/28/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/28turfwe.html
PFC Pure Cork ProFormance Infill (2017). Retrieved from https://www.greenplayusa.com/pure-cork-infill/
Turf field with cork filling [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.greenplayusa.com/pure-cork-infill/