I have been surprised at the lack of concern about the risks of artificial turf among some local officials and wrote to the Board of Education today to share my knowledge of the science with them. This is a very short summary of what I said.
I’m president of the National Center for Health Research and in that capacity, I have testified about this issue before federal, state, and local legislators and the National Academy of Medicine. We have no financial ties to this issue, but we are very concerned about the impact of artificial turf on children across the country – as well as some adults.
It is scientific fact that artificial turf (as well as rubber playground surfaces) expose children to lead as well as risky chemicals that affect their hormones. Pediatricians agree that there is no level of lead exposure that is considered safe for all children. Most communities that have had public meetings on the topic have decided to avoid “tire waste” infill on artificial turf fields because it is known to have dangerous levels of lead and hormone-disrupting chemicals. As noted on the ;CDC website, research has found that, regardless of whether the infill also contains lead, “artificial turf fibers contain levels of lead that pose a potential public health concern” and during normal wear and tear, lead dust has been found on the surface. This information is at https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/prevention/artificialturf.htm
In addition to lead, endocrine-disrupting chemicals are also dangerous. Regardless of whether the turf contains PFAs, the turf definitely contains similar endocrine-disrupting chemicals with similar health risks. These chemicals affect hormones and can cause or exacerbate the following health problems:
- Attention Deficits;
- Early Puberty;
They are also known to reduce male fertility and eventually they can also increase the risk of developing cancer.
Not all children will be harmed. Some are more vulnerable to these exposures, some spend more time on artificial turf fields or playgrounds and are exposed to more hormone disrupting chemicals from other sources (the effect is cumulative), and some will get it on their skin or hair or in their mouths when they are playing and since it is invisible, they won’t carefully clean it all off.
Perhaps local officials were told that these products meet all safety standards. That’s misleading, because there are no tests on human health that are required prior to getting artificial turf on the U.S. market. Although the U.S. Government restricted lead and many endocrine disrupting chemicals from children’s toys years ago, that was before artificial turf became popular on school fields.
As noted above, regardless of whether the turf contains PFAS, and regardless of whether tire waste is used, artificial turf and rubber playgrounds contain chemicals that make them get very hot – reaching 160-180 degrees on days when grass is in the 80s or 90s.
Artificial turf fields also get dangerously hard over time. The fields are supposed to be tested every year (read the fine print on the contract) and if any spots are found to be dangerously hard, the field is supposed to be replaced because of the risk of brain injuries. Of course, grass fields can also get hard, but grass fields will become less hard when it rains or they are watered.
I provided footnoted scientific articles to make sure that the Board of Education understands that the science is clear about the potential harm for any child. Why expose our children to these dangers day after day and year after year, when well-designed grass fields are a safer, cost-effective alternative that is better for our communities and our planet?
Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D.
President – National Center for Health Research