Featured Media Resource: VIDEO: Feds Won’t Say if Artificial Turf on Your Kids Soccer Field Is Safe (NBC News)
The use of artificial turf on playing fields has become a topic of concern for some. Is it safe or not? NBC News has been reporting on this issue since their original investigation in 2008.

Do Now U

Should we continue to install artificial surfaces and turf, knowing potential dangers and health risks, or should we use natural grass? #DoNowUTurf

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Learn More about Artificial Turf

Artificial, or synthetic, turf first came on the scene in the 1960s, however, it was not as technologically advanced as what we see used in fields today. It wasn’t until the 1990s that our modern version of artificial turf was introduced. Artificial turf bears a strong resemblance to natural grass in look, feel and playability, and it has grown in popularity over the years. Currently, more than 11,000 artificial turf fields are installed across the United States. In 2013 alone, about 1,300 fields were installed in places such as schools, parks and professional sports stadiums. Half of the NFL teams play on artificial fields. There are a number of benefits that artificial turf provides. However, there has been recent concern over the health risks of artificial turf.

Studies have shown that the “crumb rubber”–made from ground-up scrap tires–found in most artificial turf, may contain chemicals and metals including acetone, arsenic, lead and mercury. These substances have been linked to problems with the nervous system, including confusion, dizziness and unconsciousness. There is also concern that because these rubber pieces contain known carcinogens, the ingestion of them could cause cancer. The National Center for Health Research, a non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C., notes that not only are these rubber pieces found on artificial football and soccer fields, they are also being used as rubber mulch surrounding playgrounds. Opponents of artificial surfaces say long-term exposure to this rubber mulch has the potential to cause harm.

Proponents of artificial turf, like the Synthetic Turf Council, point to the benefits of artificial fields, including low maintenance. They can save up to a million gallons of water for each field a year compared with natural grass. They also do not require the use of pesticides and lawn chemicals. They do not need to be mowed and much more durable than natural grass fields. Supporters say that artificial turf is also safer for athletes to play on because it is slip resistant. Lastly, they say that turf cuts down on waste because most fields are made from recycled products. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) conducted a test on artificial surfaces to address the concerns with the chemicals that the rubber pieces contain. It confirmed that there was a presence of lead, but not at a level that would be toxic to humans. CPSC staff stated that the test, however, did not go beyond testing for the presence of lead, and people should wash their hands after coming in contact with artificial turf.

What do you think? Should we cease installation of artificial surfaces and fields or do their benefits outweigh potential health risks?

More Resources

ARTICLE: New England Center for Investigative Reporting
Crumb Rubber: Have Your Kids Been Exposed To A Cancer Risk?

This report discusses how artificial turf fields, which are being increasingly installed in the U.S., are becoming part of a hot debate due to potential health risks.

How Safe Is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On?

Learn about the original investigation by NBC News about artificial turf and crumb rubber.

PDF: Synthetic Turf Council
Synthetic Turf 360°: A Guide for Today’s Synthetic Turf

This brochure provides information on the benefits of artificial turf fields.

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This post was written by the following students at Indiana State University: Hunter McCord, Andrew Medsker and Brandon Madhaffey.

KQED Do Now U is a bi-weekly activity in collaboration with SENCER. SENCER is a community of transformation that consists of educators and administrators in the higher and informal education sectors. SENCER aims to create an intelligent, educated, and empowered citizenry through advancing knowledge in the STEM fields and beyond. SENCER courses show students the direct connections between subject content and the real world issues they care about, and invite students to use these connections to solve today’s most pressing problems.

  • John Burns

    Boys Republic High School Post

    These field are really hot to play on. Have there been any studies to know if heat can release carcinogens from the artificial turf? If kids do get cancer from the artificial turf who is responsible? What type of artificial turf do NFL players play on?

  • Jenny

    I agree that artificial turf is one small cause of cancer, yet I have failed to see what turf has actually done to humans. I have not seen any stories about people dying from being exposed to turf. I think that turf is the future. Think of all the soccer games, football games and lacrosse games played on turf. It can save clubs up to a million dollars! The turf doesn’t have to be watered or mowed or cared for on a regular basis. Imagine the world without turf; I can’t. #HCW1516

  • Payton Usher

    I agree with you that there is no proof of harm that comes from artificial fields. I have never heard of a case about someone who has become sick from playing sports on artificial turf, so hopefully this is just an overreaction. I would be very shocked and worried if the clinical studies provide results that show a link between the artificial fields and cancer. As a college athlete who plays football on artificial turf, there is no telling how many of those small rubber pieces I have ingested over the past four years.

  • David Bender

    Turf fields are a better way to go because the risks do not outweigh the benefits. While turf isn’t cheap, it is a lot less time consuming to care for, and does not need to mowed like a real grass field. There is not sufficient evidence that turf relates in any way to cancer, so that should not be an issue. Once the turf is installed, little needs to be done to care for the field

  • Martin R.

    I would always prefer natural over artificial things, From food to plants, natural is the way to go. However, whatever you should go with natural grass or artificial turf highly depends on the weather conditions your field is in. If you are dealing with very strong and hot summer or extremely cold winter then your best option would be getting some high quality premium fake turf, otherwise your best option would be natural grass.

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