No elevated health risk found from artificial turf

A new study of artificial grass fields containing crumb rubber infill conducted by four state agencies shows that health risks are not elevated from playing on the fields. Two such synthetic turf fields have been investigated: Tom Fujitani Field at Memorial Stadium and Kristine Lilly Field on the north side of the campus.

However, higher contaminant levels at one indoor field indicate that ventilation of indoor fields should be considered. Wilton does not have any indoor artificial turf fields. Storm water runoff findings indicate that proper management of this runoff is prudent to address possible environmental effects.

The study findings were peer reviewed by the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, whose comments were incorporated into the final report.

“This study presents good news regarding the safety of outdoor synthetic grass fields,” said Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. J. Robert Galvin. “While the findings indoors were below the health risk targets, the elevated contaminant levels suggest a need to ventilate these fields so they can be brought to the level of safety outdoors. What we’ve learned from this study in Connecticut will provide valuable guidance to municipalities, schools, and others who operate or are considering installing artificial playing fields.”

Study background The four state agencies, the University of Connecticut Health Center, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, the Department of Public Health, and the Department of Environmental Protection evaluated the health and environmental impacts associated with artificial turf fields containing crumb rubber infill. A key aspect of the study was a field investigation conducted in July 2009, when the UConn Health Center sent a team of researchers to four outdoor soccer turfs and one indoor sports turf across Connecticut. Three soccer players at each field were equipped with personal monitoring devices and the recorded results, together with the stationary samplers, were used to characterize possible exposures. Overall, approximately 200 chemicals were tested at each field.

Health risk assessment The Department of Public Health used the data from the sports grass investigation to evaluate health risks. Exposures and risks were not elevated relative to what is commonly found in outdoor air for both children and adults using the fields. Indoor fields showed higher levels of chemical emissions. While these levels do not suggest a health risk, the public health department recommends ventilation of indoor fields. Developers of new indoor fields should consider alternatives to crumb rubber infill as a cushioning agent.

Environmental evaluation The Department of Environmental Protection evaluated the environmental risk associated with storm water runoff from the artificial grass fields tested in the air study. Three of eight storm water samples showed elevated levels of zinc leaching from the fields that may present a risk to aquatic organisms. Other metals and rubber-related compounds tested in runoff were not elevated. Based on these results, DEP concludes there is no risk to drinking water from this runoff, but a potential risk exists for surface waters and aquatic organisms.

The DEP suggests that use of storm water treatment measures may reduce the concentrations of zinc in the storm water runoff from artificial turf fields to levels below the acute aquatic toxicity criteria. Individual synthetic turf field owners should evaluate the storm water drainage systems at the fields and the hydrologic and water quality characteristics of any receiving waters to determine the appropriateness of a storm water treatment measure.

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