Does Fake Grass Mean Real Danger?

Does Fake Grass Mean Real Danger?

Does Fake Grass Mean Real Danger? 150 150 Sally Embrey

Many people who play touch football at their local high school or have taken their kids to youth soccer practice at the community park are familiar with artificial turf. Artificial turf is easier to maintain than grass, can be used year-round in cold climates, and is a go-to-choice in areas suffering from water scarcity. Modern artificial turf is made up of three components: artificial grass fibers, carpet backing, and infill (or “artificial dirt”). A high speed slide tackle or well-timed diving catch can leave an athlete covered in “black crumbs.” Artificial dirt is actually “crumb rubber,” which is chiefly composed of the shredded remains of discarded rubber tires. Many athletes, parents, and weekend warriors feel nervous when they see this crumb rubber inside their shoes, embedded in their hair, and (eventually) littered in their bath tub.

And understandably so. Artificial turf has been shown to contain a wide range of potentially toxic chemical substances. CoMeta™ does not profile artificial turf as a Litagion® Agent itself, but it does have artificial turf as an exposure setting for thirteen Litagion Agents, including arsenic, benzene, cadmium, decabromodiphenyl ether, hexavalent chromium, lead, and mercury.

CoMeta has been monitoring the scientific literature related to artificial turf exposure since 2013. To date, there is no published peer-reviewed study correlating human or animal exposure to artificial turf with bodily injury; accordingly, CoMeta concludes that the overall risk is very low that mass litigation will emerge over artificial turf exposure in the near term. Most of the published peer-reviewed scientific literature about artificial turf exposure compares rates of mechanical injury among athletes who do and do not play on artificial turf. There are also a number of published risk assessments examining the potential for exposure to heavy metals, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in artificial turf.

Measurements taken from artificial turf fields typically find low concentrations of heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury. Scientists generally believe that these exposure levels, which are below regulatory exposure limits, pose minimal health risk. Zinc consistently measures at comparatively higher concentrations and, unlike other heavy metals, potential exposure remains high for years after artificial turf installation. Some scientists are concerned that zinc exposure from run-off poses a risk to aquatic environments, but there is little concern that zinc exposure from artificial turf poses a risk to human health. Scientific interest in exposure to crumb rubber grew after it was introduced as a floor covering for playgrounds. That published literature also concludes that its use in playgrounds poses minimal health risk.
Another potential exposure concern from artificial turf is the off-gassing of VOCs and PAHs. Measurements of these chemicals in the air above and around fields have been shown to be comparable to background levels and well below regulatory limits. Indoor areas with artificial turf have slightly elevated air concentrations of these chemicals, but they are not high enough to concern scientists. A study1 published in 2011 measured the concentrations of one PAH compound, benzo[a]pyrene, at several artificial turf fields. The authors used the highest measured exposure level to estimate that a professional athlete playing 30 years on artificial turf would increase their excess lifetime cancer risk by one in a million. Artificial turf installers may face higher overall exposure, but there has been no published peer-reviewed study of that particular population.

Despite the absence of supporting science, some plaintiff attorneys are seeking to recruit plaintiffs diagnosed with lymphoma and other cancers who were also exposed to artificial turf.2 These efforts increased after a soccer coach publicized that she had collected an informal list of nearly 200 athletes (mostly soccer players) who had played on artificial turf that had also been diagnosed with lymphoma and other cancers.3 We are not aware of any bodily injury lawsuits that have been filed related to artificial turf exposure. However, there have been a number of lawsuits that seek changes in products as a result of the potential for bodily injury. Recently, in Protect Glen Ellyn Parks, Inc. v. Glen Ellyn Park District, an Illinois community group sued a local park district to stop the installation of artificial turf in local parks. The court rejected the lawsuit, finding the plaintiffs did not prove artificial turf causes irreparable harm.4 In 2010, acting California Attorney General Jerry Brown settled a lawsuit against the largest manufacturers of artificial turf, Beaulieu, LLC and Field Turf, USA.5 The settlement required these companies to lower lead levels in their artificial turf products.

Because the exposure to artificial turf is so wide-spread, scientists will likely continue to investigate its association with adverse health outcomes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are conducting exposure studies as is the state of California. Praedicat will continue monitoring the literature and we will update CoMeta users should new science emerge

About the author
Sally Embrey is Praedicat’s Director of Analytical Content and Epidemiology.
You can reach Sally by email at