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Artificial Grass

Does Artificial Turf Cause Cancer? We Examine the Claims and Research

Children’s playgrounds, parks, soccer fields, school grounds, stadiums, and backyards.

These are only a few of the places where good old grass has been replaced by artificial turf.

Although artificial turf is extremely easy to manage since it does not need mowing, watering or any other kind of care – is it a 100% healthy alternative to natural grass?

Does Artificial Turf Cause Cancer?

The question of whether or not artificial turf causes cancer is a very challenging one, which really does not have an explicit answer.

As suggested by limited research conducted on this issue, not much evidence has been found that proves a strong link between artificial turf and cancer.

This, however, cannot completely rule out the chance that the use of artificial turf could cause cancer.

Furthermore, it has also been suggested to perform extensive investigation to get more insight on this matter.

Until an authentic answer is found for the question, people should not limit their physical activity on artificial turf, considering the positive impact of exercise on one’s health.

They should also should try to reduce their exposure to the carcinogens in artificial turf by implementing suitable methods such as washing up right after playing on artificial turf and limiting their playtime during extreme hot weather.

Research Conducted on Artificial Turf

Some research has been conducted to test whether the components of crumbed rubber can potentially cause cancer in people:

Report by Washington State Department of Health

Amy Griffin, the Women’s Associate Head Soccer Coach of University of Washington, raised her concern that because there was such a long list of soccer players on her list who had contracted cancer, there had to be a link between the artificial turf and the cancer.

A research was conducted by public health researchers at the State of Washington to test what Amy Griffin was claiming.

The report issued by the Washington State Department of Health, however, stated that the rates of cancer in the soccer players were actually lower than that expected in the general population.

Hence, it was not suggested that the soccer players suspend their physical activity, as the benefit of being physically active outweighed the risks associated with artificial turf.

Rutgers University Study

Another research conducted at Rutgers University, although unpublished, claims to have tested artificial turf fields in New York City for components that may be dangerous for health.

The reports of this study show that the six possibly carcinogenic PAHs found in the artificial turf were in excessive amount as compared to the state’s mandate.

Furthermore, the researchers raised their concern that there was a possibility that the results were manipulated by allowing solvents to help reduce the chemicals in the artificial turf, making it seem less injurious to health than it really was.

Concerns Regarding Safety of Artificial Turf

The safety of artificial turf is still under review because not much research has been conducted in this regard.

In reality, there is no law that mandates the testing of artificial turf sold to be used in playgrounds and fields.

Does Artificial Turf Get Too Hot?

In the peak of summer, the old varieties of artificial grass (with rubber infill material) can reach dangerous levels of hot temperatures.

This can cause chafing due to “turf burn” when kids or sportspersons fall and go sliding on it.

Additional stress on joints during skids and slides increases due to the hardness of the artificial turf as well. Again, this is a concern with older varieties of artificial turf that had outdated and cheap rubber infill.

2017 Study of Turf Fields

In the year 2017, when a test was conducted on 51 artificial turf fields in Washington D.C., 37 of them failed, due to their hardness scores of above 165.

Similarly, 10 out of 32 artificial turf fields tested in California failed the hardness test due to being unreasonably hard.

This meant that falling on these hard surfaces would result in fatal injuries such as brain trauma and broken bones.

Poor Quality Turf is Prone to Weed and Bacterial Growth

Although it does not need trimming, the environment in the artificial turf is favorable for growth of crab grass and other weeds.

Hence, the need for application of weed killers arises, which is linked to a variety of health concerns.

Furthermore, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the bacteria which is resistant to many antibiotics, thrives in the artificial turf.

When someone slides on it and scrapes their skin, exposing themselves to these bacteria, diseases like sepsis, pneumonia, and other bloodstream infections can be acquired, which can prove to be lethal.

In order to keep MRSA at bay, the artificial turf is then sprayed with biocide, which again, is a chemical that is considered poisonous and detrimental for human health.

Understanding the Composition of Artificial Turf

So why exactly is artificial turf believed to be posing health risks to humans and animals? The answer to this question lies in the composition of artificial turf. There are three major components of artificial turf:

  1. Fake Grass Blades: Fibers that look like actual grass
  2. Backing Material: The material that is used to keep the individual plastic blades in place
  3. Turf Infill: The material used to help support the plastic blades stand upright

The plastic blades are tinted green with various pigments; however, the bad stuff lies in the outdated, cheap rubber infill.

Why Not to Use Cheap Rubber Infill

Rubber infill is derived from the 20 million rubber tires that are recycled every year just for the purpose of filling grounds and fields.

Tires that are crushed to form rubber crumbs are composed of not only rubber from rubber trees, but a mixture of petroleum products and natural latex.

Having petroleum as a component of the cheap rubber infill, artificial turf contains many metals and chemicals such:

  • Zinc
  • Lead
  • Cadmium
  • Phthalates
  • 4 types of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, including chrysene and dibenzopyrene)
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
  • Other harmful substances – many of these are considered to be carcinogens.

Our suggestion is to use high quality turf infill such as Envirofill which is made to a higher standard than rubber crumb infill.

It may be a more costly turf infill, but it is healthier for both humans and pets.

Cheap Crumb Rubber Infill Concerns

Although we know that crumb rubber contains carcinogens, not much research has been performed in order to prove it completely.

Furthermore, it would be unethical to expose children to potentially carcinogenic substances in rubber crumbs, just for the sake of research.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment did, however, conduct a research that imitated a scenario in which children would be exposed to these harmful substances, especially chrysene, a carcinogen.

It was concluded from the results of the controlled experiment that if children ingested or touched crumbed rubber just once in their lifetime, it would not necessarily harm them in any way.

However, extended exposure may cause serious health concerns, including cancer.

So how do these substances that make up crumb rubber cause cancer?

Commonly it is seen that crumb rubber has large particles.

However, overtime they become smaller – small enough to be carried upwards with dust particles, above the field and in the air that children or other people may inhale them.

Hence, the carcinogenic particles can enter their bodies and increase the chances of them contracting cancer.