Independent review into the design, use and impacts of synthetic turf in public open spaces – Final report

NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer

Synthetic turf has become ubiquitous in both public and private settings, and there is interest in understanding the impacts of materials used in its installation. In November 2021, the Hon. Rob Stokes MP, (then) Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, requested the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer (CSE) provide expert advice on the use of synthetic turf in public open space in NSW.

Following the Terms of Reference, the Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer (OCSE) has completed its independent review (the Review). To inform the Review, OCSE has drawn on available data and research, commissioned expert analysis, and undertaken consultation with key stakeholders and experts.

This report presents an overview of key insights and makes recommendations to guide the use of and improve the management of synthetic turf in NSW. Findings and recommendations will inform guidance being developed by the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) for councils that are proposing new synthetic fields, as well as informing applications and management of synthetic turf in other settings.

Detailed findings and the expert advice informing the review are also provided in the appendices of this report.


World Cup insistence on grass becomes key player point in turf debate

Players want grass in all venues. Various NFL stadiums use artificial turf. The debate has not gotten much traction, yet.

As the U.S.-hosted 2026 World Cup approaches and as more people realize that stadiums like AT&T in Dallas and SoFi in L.A. will convert to grass fields for the soccer competition, more will ask why, if that can be done for soccer, it can’t be done for football?

When push comes to shove, sources connected to The Shield will point out (as they already are) that the World Cup surfaces will be a hybrid of grass and synthetic turf.

Fine, then why don’t the stadiums that currently use turf only permanently use the FIFA-required grass/synthetic hybrid for football, too?

Players who want all grass would surely settle for a grass/fake blend than all fake. Why not just keep the World Cup surface at AT&T Stadium and at SoFi Stadium?

The broader point is that, although owners like Jerry Jones and Stan Kroenke won’t change surfaces because football players prefer grass, they’ll bend over backward when the soccer authority responsible for the World Cup demands grass, or at least a grass/turf hybrid.

The recent feature on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel hammers the point home. Grass is far safer than turf. Football players want to play on grass. Why in the hell won’t NFL owners provide them with grass, or at least a grass/turf hybrid?

As one source within the NFL bubble who believes in grass fields recently told PFT, the NFL will warp and twist statistics in order to preserve the status quo. The league doesn’t want to force owners to incur the expense of installing and maintaining grass — especially in venues where a significant re-engineering of the building would be necessary to permit it.

And so the NFL will continue to ignore the noise and hold the line and force players to deal with the hazards of artificial turf, even as more and more evidence surfaces regarding the relative safety, both as to injuries and overall wear and tear, of playing on a softer, more forgiving surface.

Put simply, it’s a problem the NFL won’t solve because the NFL refuses to acknowledge that there’s even a problem. The willingness of some owners to swap out turf-only fields for the World Cup will hopefully get so many people to recognize the problem that the league will have no choice but to finally concede that a problem exists.

Comment from NTA. All over the world, community and elite sports groups are concerned about the proliferation of synthetic turf, in terms of its effect on the environment, community health and player’s health. There’s increasing focus on converting synthetic turf back to natural turf fields. Why won’t our local regulatory and government authorities listen?

This article is extracted from https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2023/05/26/world-cup-insistence-on-grass-becomes-key-player-point-in-turf-debate/.

Could FOGO accelerate the quality of our playing fields?

The Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy (WaSM) released in June 2021 requires:

  • Councils to provide FOGO (Food Organics and Garden Organics) services to all households by 2030
  • Large food wasting businesses to source separate food waste by 2025 – hospitality, retail, and institution sectors (hospitals, schools, correctional centres etc)
  • Larger supermarkets to report on food donation from 2025

The WaSM allocates $69 million to the Net Zero Organics program to 2027 to deliver on the following targets:

  • halve organics waste to landfill
  • 80% of all waste recovered
  • halve food waste by 2030
  • net zero emissions of organics waste in landfill by 2030 (Net Zero Plan commitment)

The source separation requirements will divert up to 800,000 tonnes of organics waste a year to be recycled into compost.

The NSW EPA is encouraging councils to support end markets by buying back FOGO organic compost  and using it on its parks and playing fields. Already, Penrith and other councils are using organic compost to build and maintain superior playing fields.

Properly developed and maintained natural turf fields can achieve capacity of 50 hours per week or more.

Cool Compost

  • The EPA has been supporting end markets for the recycled product, compost, through a $7.5 million Organic Market Development (OMD) Program, delivering grants, industry training and research. Strong markets are essential to ensure the economic viability of organics processing.
  • To leverage the outcomes from the grant projects, the EPA developed a project called ‘Cool Compost’
  • Cool Compost aims to further increase awareness of the benefits of compost made from FOGO and increase demand for compost in five markets, including councils.
  • The result is five videos and five podcasts telling the whole story for each audience, with Show Notes providing additional info and resources.
  • The Council show notes include links to projects showcasing the benefits of compost in stormwater filtration and playing fields.
  • More at www.epa.nsw.gov.au/fogo and https://circularag.com.au/compost/

Update – Reconstruction of Natural Turf Fields by Penrith Council.

Penrith Council are responsible for around 160 sports fields. They are working on updating their natural turf ovals and currently have around 36 converted to ‘best practice’ design and maintenance standards. Expert Soil Scientist Dr Mick Battam (Agenviro) has overseen the reconstruction of about 4 natural turf sporting fields in Penrith to date, with a further 10 fields about to come on line (March 2023).

Penrith Council was the first metropolitan council in Sydney to Implement FOGO (food organics and garden organics) recycling in 2009. The council has used FOGO compost to develop strong turf cultivars in many of their fields with good results.  Council’s FOGO material is turned into compost and is being used as topsoil to resurface and reconstruct their sporting fields. To date, 36 sports fields have been reconstructed using this technology.

Recent examples are Caddens Oval in Claremont Meadows and Mulgoa Rise Fields in Glemore Park. Caddens Oval was nutritionally depleted and very low in organic matter. It required 175 cubic metres of FOGO material applied at a rate of 10mm across the entire surface. A reapplication program utilising FOGO material will continue at this site to sustain and promote healthy turf growth.

Ref: https://www.penrithcity.nsw.gov.au/news/1387-penrith-s-top-fogo-efforts-in-action

At a recent ‘Best on Ground’ event organised by AORA and NSW EPA, representatives from Penrith Council spoke very positively about FOGO and Dr Battam’s approach to field management. They said capacity of these natural turf fields was at least 50 hours per week.

Contact : Malcolm Sheens (Operations Coordinator – Public Spaces Maintenance) at Malcolm.sheens@penrith.city

Other contacts:

AORA (Australian Organics Recycling Association) – https://www.aora.org.au/

Agenviro Solutions – http://www.agenviro.com/

EPA (FOGO) – https://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/your-environment/recycling-and-reuse/business-government-recycling/food-organics-and-garden-organics

How the “Syn-Turf” Industry Pulled the Wool over the Public’s Eyes

There is growing concern in the U.S. and around the world over potential human health hazards related to the use and prolonged exposure to recycled tire rubber (also known as “tire crumb” or “crumb rubber”). Multiple studies have identified toxic chemicals in that rubber, including heavy metals, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s), and several known or suspected carcinogens. Despite this, a booming, multi-million dollar industry has continued to grow up around the use of these materials, not just on athletic fields, but on children’s playgrounds as well.

According to the Synthetic Turf Council, there are currently between 12,000-13,000 synthetic turf systems in use across the United States, with anywhere from 1,200 – 1,500 new fields being installed each year. Developers, surfacing manufacturers, and rubber recyclers have aggressively promoted the use of such systems for indoor and outdoor athletic facilities, in addition to their use as protective surfacing under public playscapes. These industries have worked together to market these crumb rubber surfaces as a “safe alternative to natural grass,” but a health experts and athletics professionals alike have both challenged such claims.

Amy Griffin, women’s soccer coach at the University of Washington, was one of those athletics professionals. In 2014, she began documenting an apparent trend of soccer players (particularly goalkeepers) developing rare blood cancers (including leukemia and lymphoma) after years of playing on crumb-rubber fields. To date, Coach Griffin has compiled the names of more than 200 women’s soccer players who had developed these cancers. After investigating, the Washington State Department of Public Health published a report in early 2017, which suggested there was no cause for alarm. But Washington State was not the first state to come down on the side of the turf manufacturers. Our own home state of Connecticut made a similar determination back in 2007.

So where is the disconnect? If research shows that crumb rubber contains toxic materials, how is it possible for a state-run public health agency to call that product safe? Perhaps it has something to do with the limited scope of those investigations. Causal relationships are very complex and difficult to prove absent a thorough comparison of similar populations using a test and control group over time. And that’s just not something that states have the time or resources to do these days.

This is a reality that the industry has exploited, with considerable success. A new report released by Environment & Human Health, Inc., details how crumb rubber manufacturers have gone to great lengths to twist the truth; referencing real, peer-reviewed studies in statements arguing their products are safe. In truth, many of the very studies the industry has pointed to in recent years actually identified numerous toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in crumb rubber.

Fourteen of the 22 studies reviewed found varying levels of lead in those fields, and one of them tested actually had lead levels 500-1,000 times higher than that of other fields. These elevated lead levels alone make it impossible to characterize these materials as “safe” or “risk-free”. And yet, new fields continue to be installed for use on youth sports facilities and public playgrounds, which are primarily used by small children. Children are uniquely vulnerable to toxic health exposures in their environment due to their small size, rapidly developing bodies, and frequent hand-to-mouth activities. In theory, this makes public playgrounds and grade-school athletic fields an obvious place to prohibit the use of this material.

In the science world, the “precautionary principle” dictates that if a product raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. With clear scientific evidence available that shredded tires contain hazardous materials, their use on school grounds, public playgrounds and other facilities should be avoided, especially in areas where small children can be found. Unfortunately, this common-sense approach has been all but overlooked.

So how did this happen? The truth is, our communities have been the victims of a well-funded, industry-sponsored campaign of misinformation directed at the public and policymakers alike. Those that manufacture these products are well aware of the toxic constituents they contain, and they knowingly distort the truth to help ensure that lawmakers do nothing address this emerging health hazard. These industries have cast a shadow of doubt over the available science. As a result, thousands of municipalities and school systems across the country have been duped into investing millions on crumb rubber fields, with little understanding about the true health concerns related to their use.

Despite what the turf manufacturers want us to believe, the science on crumb rubber is alarming, to say the least. What is needed is a comprehensive, independent review of the available science, to determine once and for all the true potential for a cause-and-effect relationship between crumb rubber and the adverse health impacts we are seeing among women’s soccer players. Many in the advocacy world were encouraged when Congress ordered the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to collaborate on such a health assessment in 2015. Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, that process has faced significant delays under President Trump’s administration. To date, the inter-agency health assessment is still ongoing with no definite end in sight.

With our federal regulators asleep at the wheel, it is up to the non-profit community to take on the responsibility of identifying the health hazards of crumb rubber, and informing the public. The challenge ahead of us is to educate our communities on this emerging health threat, empower them to stand up to the turf companies, and demand a higher standard of protection for our children. I’m glad that Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy CT is working on this issue. With knowledge comes the responsibility to act. The more the public knows the concerns about crumb rubber, the more difficult it will be for industry to defend its use.

This article was published in https://cleanwater.org/

This blog by Louis W. Burch, CT Program Director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, covers the health risks from exposure to recycled tire rubber. Clean Water Action and Citizens Campaign for the Environment are both members of Coalition for Safe and Healthy CT, which has worked to on state-wide bans of artificial turf made with recycled tires for several years without success. Misunderstanding on the health impacts of exposure to chemicals in turf remains a big problem.

Save Sydney’s Parks and Ovals – Fighting Fund

A tide of Green Plastic is moving over Sydney’s local parks and ovals with natural turf being replaced with plastic synthetic fields all over the metropolitan area.

An unregulated synthetic turf industry has had an intensive marketing strategy that “informs,“ ”trains” council staff and sporting associations of the necessity of synthetic turf to supply current and future sporting infrastructure.

This tide over Sydney has seen no need for any independent scientific verification of their claims or actual evidential investigation of enviromental, social and economic consequences.

Your local park’s green plastic oval will be fencedcurbed with no food and drink allowed, no marquis or folding chairs allowed, no dog walking and by its very nature of not being a natural green space, too hot to walk in warmer daylight hours (these fields are up to 30 degrees hotter than grass); are therefore not usable for passive recreation. The hard synthetic ovals are unsuitable for other contact sports. The observational reality of synthetic fields is they effectively become exclusively soccer real estate.

As an impermeable plastic layer they extinguish any biology (insect, bird life), increase flood risks with no cooling transpirational effects of natural grass. They are a local heat pump to the surrounding areas. They contain the “forever chemical” PFAS and along with the microplastics, these drain into the local waterways and surrounds. There is no “mitigation” strategy currently devised that can prevent this.

The cost of these synthetic ovals is usually about double the newest natural turf alternatives (our local costing is $3.6 million + GST). Ovals of plastic turf rolls, unrecyclable, go to landfill every 8-10 years when they need to be replaced.

This is what happens to synthetic fields – Tempe Recreation Reserve 22/2/2023

Worn-out artificial turf fields pose huge waste problems – to landfill, no recycling

There are many new natural turf construction, cultivar, options that are providing the increased usage needed (31 in Penrith giving 50-60 hours) but this is not what has been promoted by the marketing.

So we need help !

The chief scientist has just done an investigation into synthetic turf in sporting infrastructure and we want this information to inform the use of synthetic turf in council decision-making , getting some science and independence into decision-making.

Unfortunately despite 2 years after asking for this, our council seems to be deaf to any other pathway so we are going to challenge them legally.

This requires funds and donations, we need financial help.

So please if you do not want to see your local oval turned to plastic, exclusive, costly real estate, donate to our legal challenge currently underway.



To read more about the real concerns with synthetic fields:

Presence of PFAS in artificial turf fields causes school to pause plans

The debate over the so-called forever chemicals, a class of cancer-causing chemicals known by the acronym PFAS, moved from the airport and fire department to the high school this year, when a move to install synthetic turf athletic fields led to an ongoing argument about the potential danger to the island’s water supply.

In May of 2021, the Nantucket Airport had agreed to pay the water bills of 23 neighboring homeowners who have been forced to move off of well-water and connect to the town water due to PFAS contamination.

The contamination of these cancer-causing chemicals was likely caused by a fire suppressant foam called AFFF, which was used during firefighting drills at the airport over decades that has seeped into the surrounding groundwater.

The Airport Commission voted unanimously to pay a one-time $1000 reimbursement which they said represents approximately a year’s worth of water bills.

A handful of affected residents had asked the airport to pay their water bills in perpetuity because they were forced to give up their well service which had no monthly charge attached.

“It seems irresponsible to damage a person’s water system, expose them to harmful and dangerous chemicals, and then when fixing the situation to saddle them with a monthly bill that they otherwise would not have had,” said Nicole Gross, one of two homeowners in the affected area that wrote to the Airport commission requesting water bill compensation.

Gross said it was not just about the money. While she and her family waited to connect to town water, the specter of PFAS looms large over their household.

“We use large water jugs now for our drinking and cooking water but we still are exposed through bathing and washing of dishes and clothes to the well water,” she said. “It’s really an unsettling thing as a parent to not know what the long-term effects may be on your children that are still growing and developing.”

Meanwhile, the Nantucket Public School’s Campus Wide Master Plan called for the installation of two synthetic turf fields, to take advantage of the minimal upkeep required for the turf fields, as opposed to upkeep required to deal with the wear and tear of traditional grass fields.

Ayesha Khan Barber had watched her husband Nate, a Nantucket fire fighter, and his colleagues deal with both the problem of PFAS chemicals in AFFF and in the manufacture of the very turnout gear they wear to fires.

 Now she began hearing the same industry arguments being used in the sale of the turf fields.

“Two years ago, I would have been out voting for this turf,” she said. “Had the experience with the foam not happened, I’d be saying turf, sounds like the greatest thing since sliced bread. Let’s do it. However, when I see the same dialogue being used, I thought it’s the exact same message points. When I heard the good ‘PFAS/bad PFAS’ phrase at the first meeting with the consultant, I thought, ‘We heard that three years ago’.”

The two turf fields were only part of a much larger, $17 million master plan to revamp the school’s outdoor athletic facilities. The issue of whether the artificial turf might leach PFAS, which has been linked to cancer and other diseases, into the island’s water table, raised its head when a toxicologist hired by the town, Laura Green, Ph.D., left the project amid controversy.

Greene had downplayed the health and environmental effects of the PFAS used to make the artificial turf. She had told much the same thing to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which was considering a similar synthetic turf field on that island.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency, according to the Vineyard Gazette, “disavowed many of her claims about the alleged safety of PFAS.”

A contentious debate, which included both engineers hired by the school and independent scientists, came to a head at a school committee workshop in February. The workshop was set-up by Tim Lepore, MD, the chair of the school committee.

After nearly two hours of back-and-forth between representatives from Weston & Sampson, the engineering firm hired by the school, and a half-dozen scientists who offered dissenting views, school committee member Pauline Proch said it was Nantucket Land Council executive director Emily Molden’s comments that summed it up best for her.

“The science on this is still just too young for a real full assessment of PFAS risk,” Molden said. “Overall there is just a risk that at this time is unquantifiable.”

School Committee chairman Dr. Tom Lepore, who set up the workshop, was happy with the free-flowing discussion between experts on both sides of the issue.

“I think it will give the public reasons to understand what the potential problems are with turf fields,” he said.

In the end, the turf fields were removed from the town meeting appropriations article funding the campus wide master plan.

This article was published at https://www.ack.net/ on 29th December 2022

Turf Wars – ABC News – 9th December 2022

Tired of matches being cancelled due to waterlogged pitches, one Sydney football club pitched to get a synthetic field installed at the local oval. But the club came up with stiff opposition from local residents worried about the environmental impact. In the end, a compromise was found.

Click here to view video

‘Eco-friendly’ artificial grass not green, says watchdog

Suppliers of artificial grass have been told to stop describing it as “environmentally friendly” and to expect enforcement if they do not comply.

The Advertising Standards Authority will crack down on firms that make the claim after rebuking a leading supplier for saying that one of its products was “eco” with “no evidence” to back it up.

Perfectly Green has also been told to stop maintaining that its fake grass is “recyclable” as there are at present no facilities in Britain that could recycle it.

The decision by the watchdog followed a complaint by the campaign group Plastics Rebellion, which argued that Perfectly Green’s “Soul” eco-grass was actually harmful to the planet.

Source: The Times (UK) – 12th November 2022