What Are the Dangers of Artificial Turf?
Now that artificial turf is frequently being used on school and youth athletic fields in addition to professional ones, scrutiny of the potential health hazards of turf is increasing as well. The history of turf-specific injuries has long been discussed, but new research is being conducted on potential bacterial and chemical hazards. It is important to note that the concerns at this time over risks of poisoning or carcinogens are speculative until scientific studies are completed.
The first artificial playing surfaces installed decades ago had a thin layer of turf and padding over hard concrete, and players taking hard falls or tackles could suffer severe injuries, including concussions. Modern artificial turf much more closely approximates the give of a natural grass surface, but turf-specific fractures and strains can still occur.
On hot summer days, the surface temperature of artificial turf can reach 150 to 170 degrees F. The air within a few feet of the surface can be heated far above the nominal air temperature. This can greatly increase the danger to athletes of heatstroke and dehydration.
Bacteria, left by bodily secretions such as sweat, saliva and blood, thrive in the artificial turf when heated. Cuts, open wounds and bare skin coming into contact with the bacteria can pick up infections that can develop into serious conditions. Turf burns from friction must be immediately disinfected.
Federal authorities have recently been investigating the effects of lead chromate contained in the pigment used to color the turf. A major concern is that abrasion of the turf during normal use can generate tiny suspended fibers, possibly containing lead, which can be inhaled.
Crumb rubber, used as a pad underneath many modern artificial turf surfaces, is currently being investigated by the New York State Department of Health for the possibility that it is a carcinogen. No previous studies have been done in this area.