Best Practice Guidelines -Turf Sportsfields

There is no hope for natural playing fields to provide for the recreational needs of the community if there is no budget for carrying out the proper construction, care, and maintenance they need. One- off ex gratia grants for building new synthetic recreational areas are not the answer to the problems arising from greater demand for use. The assumption behind these grants is that it is impossible for natural fields to carry the workload required by the community. This is not only false, but it is used by the purveyors of synthetic turf as part of their mantra for pushing for these installations.

Hunter Water in collaboration with NSW Environmental Protection Agency has commissioned this Best Practice Guideline to provide additional support to the development and maintenance of green open spaces in both wet and dry conditions.

While the guidelines have focussed on public sporting fields, they can be used by anyone involved in planning, designing, building and/or maintaining turf surfaces for other communities, such as school ovals or golf courses.

Click here to view and download the guidelines

Boston bans artificial turf in parks due to toxic chemicals

Boston’s mayor, Michelle Wu, has ordered no new artificial turf to be installed in city parks, making Boston the largest municipality in a small but growing number around the nation to limit use of the product because it contains dangerous chemicals.

All artificial turf is made with toxic PFAS compounds and some is still produced with ground-up tires that can contain heavy metals, benzene, VOCs and other carcinogens that can present a health threat. The material also emits high levels of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and sheds microplastics and other chemicals into waterways.

“We already know there are toxic chemicals in the products, so why would we continue to utilize them and have children roll around on them when we have a safe alternative, which is natural grass?” asked Sarah Evans, an environmental health professor for the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Beyond chemical risks, the fields can act as heat islands that increase playing field temperatures to as much as 93C (200F), Evans noted. National Football League players are pressuring the league to ban artificial turf because of injuries, while the US national soccer teams will only play on natural grass for the same reason.

The federal government estimates 12,000 synthetic turf fields exist in the US, and at least 1,200 more are installed annually. Proponents say they are easier to maintain than grass fields and are not prone to “flooding”, though they do also require significant maintenance. The product is also increasingly used on playgrounds or as alternatives to lawns in drought-plagued regions.

But in recent years, municipalities have begun limiting their use via bans or moratoriums, including at least four in Massachusetts before Boston, two in California’s Bay Area and several in Connecticut.

In a statement to the Guardian, a spokesperson for Wu said: “The city has a preference for grass playing surfaces wherever possible and will not be installing playing surfaces with PFAS chemicals moving forward.”

Elsewhere, battles over proposed artificial fields are playing out. In Martha’s Vineyard, the school district is suing the city for prohibiting an artificial field from being installed because of concerns that it would contaminate an aquifer from which the town draws its drinking water. Meanwhile, voters in Malden, just north of Boston, may settle a heated debate over a proposed artificial field.

In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, city officials thought they had ordered a PFAS-free artificial turf field, but later testing revealed that it contained high levels of the chemicals. A state-level proposal to ban artificial turf recently failed in Massachusetts, and public health advocates and legislators in another state are planning to propose a ban on the material, though they declined to say on the record which state until the proposal is introduced.

Artificial turf is made with several layers including plastic grass blades, plastic backing that holds the blades in place and infill that weighs down the turf and helps blades stand upright. Until recently, infill was always made with recycled rubber tires called crumb rubber. However, independent and Environmental Protection Agency testing found the material contains high levels of dangerous chemicals.

“It seems kind of nonsensical to put ground-up tires in a field where children are playing,” said Kyla Bennett, a former EPA official and director of science policy at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer).

Some companies have begun using cork as infill, but industry has said the grass blades and backing cannot be made without PFAS.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 12,000 chemicals often used to make products resist water, stain and heat. They are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t naturally break down, and are linked to cancer, liver problems, thyroid issues, birth defects, kidney disease, decreased immunity and other serious health problems.

PFAS can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled, ingested or get in open wounds as they break off from the plastic blades, and children are considered more vulnerable to exposure because they are smaller and their bodies are still developing.

Some manufacturers have claimed the amount of PFAS used in artificial turf isn’t high enough to be dangerous, or that they use “safe” PFAS. “Independent research has shown time and time again that synthetic turf systems provide many community benefits and continue to meet and exceed regulatory standards for human health, safety and performance,” the Synthetic Turf Council, an industry trade group, said in a statement to the Guardian.

But no studies have been completed on how PFAS or other chemicals move from artificial turf to children, so the industry doesn’t know if it’s safe, Evans said. Moreover, the fields are another of myriad potential daily exposures to PFAS in consumer products, food and water, Evans said.

Public health advocates note all PFAS studied have been found to accumulate in the environment and be toxic to humans, and, once in the environment, “safe” compounds used in manufacturing break down into unsafe chemicals.

Testing of multiple artificial fields has found the presence of highly toxic PFAS compounds like 6:2 FTOH and PFOS. The EPA recently revised its health advisory for PFOS to state that effectively no level of exposure in drinking water is safe.

“It’s only a matter of time before [artificial turf] is banned,” Bennett said. “In a few years we’re going to be asking, ‘How on Earth did we ever allow this to happen?’”

Source: The Guardian. 30th Sep 2022 | Click here

Sydney councils in turf war over natural turf or plastic fields

The risk of saying goodbye to less than $1 million helped sway a Sydney council to allow a synthetic sports field on a flood basin close to an endangered forest and national park.

Despite initially refusing to replace natural grass with plastic at the sensitive site, Ku-ring-gai Council officers later wrote in a report that some $929,000 from state government and community grants intended specifically for a synthetic field “cannot easily be overlooked”.

Cited in the report before the October 2020 council meeting was the conditional support of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). But while the environmental authority was supportive of the upgrade, it was concerned about synthetics.

In a September letter it had asked for a detailed analysis of the environmental, social and health impacts, among others. It said there was a danger of chemicals flowing into nearby Quarry Creek, urban heat concerns for the native flora and fauna – including the vulnerable powerful owl – and potential risk to the critically endangered Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest.

Resident Mignon Booth said, from an environmental perspective, the plan was “highly risky”.

“To put it near a waterway, to put it near endangered flora without knowing exactly what you’re doing, it couldn’t be in a worse spot,” Ms Booth said, adding there were unknown factors about the use of synthetic turf due to a dearth of thorough research.

Planning Minister Rob Stokes hopes an investigation by the state’s chief scientist will address the unknowns, with similar concerns raised in an October report commissioned by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE).

A Ku-ring-gai Council spokeswoman said NPWS’s concerns were being worked through, and the council would refer to the government report in pushing

forward with the $3.3 million project, as well as installing a pollutant trap and filtering basin to ensure against run-off into the environment.

The spokeswoman also said the use of cork infill in the surface would be a better option environmentally than rubber.

Despite the assurances, candidates are pitching battle over synthetic turf, not only in Ku-ring-gai, but in councils across Sydney in the lead-up to Saturday’s local government elections. Communities are divided over the environmental effects versus the increased participation in sport they say the artificial turf will allow.

In nearby Lane Cove, microplastics have been leaking from an artificial pitch at Blackman Park, a reserve on the Lane Cove River. A critical component of the environmental assessment for the proposed synthetic field at Bob Campbell Oval in Greenwich was also discovered to be missing in July, prompting the appraisal to be scrapped.

That divisive project has been one of the motivating factors in resident Merri Southwood running for Lane Cove Council.

“This is the only level, open space in our area, and in an environmentally sensitive location, and it will become a single-purpose sports field that will dominate the use of the reserve and impact the flexibility that the space now offers,” she said.

Gardiner Park in Banksia has become a battleground where Bayside Council has fended off sustained protests over the laying of a synthetic field, a conflict from which candidates have sprung. Greens members Greta Werner and Catriona Carver are campaigning against artificial turf.

A key argument of councils and sporting clubs for synthetic is its ability to cope with greater wear, with the October government report quoting figures for natural turf as being able to bear about 25 hours a week.

However, it also noted turf scientists Mick Battam and Paul Lamble challenged those assumptions, demonstrating there were some that could handle up to 65 hours a week.

But synthetic turf consultant Martin Sheppard, whose business Smart Connection is heavily involved in promoting the industry, said that level of usage was aspirational.

“You can’t get 60 hours of usage on any field anywhere in Australia. I’d rather have a [natural] turf field every single day, but the problem is the population is growing, we’re trying to get more people active … that means there’s not enough fields to go around,” he said.

Smart Connection is a prolific player, advising councils on their ground strategies, creating guides with major sporting bodies, and whose material was a significant contributor to the DPIE report.

The report highlighted the lack of community consultation required to install synthetic fields, as no development application is required, combined with a propensity for the projects to be funded via government and sporting grants.

It also revealed there was a community perception that well-organised lobbying from the synthetic turf industry and sporting bodies led to a disproportionate priority over natural turf, an arena some council candidates are pushing to upset.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Angus Thompson) – 1st December 2021

Stokes Synthetic Fields Report – A missed opportunity to protect Sydney from a social and environmental menace

The NSW Government has a responsibility to ensure the community has access to quality playing fields that are accessible to the whole community, represent taxpayer value for money and do not result in major environmental damage.

Minister for Planning and Open Spaces Rob Stokes today released a report into the contentious issue of synthetic turf (CLICK HERE). However, the Natural Turf Alliance (NTA) a grassroots movement giving voice to a growing community opposition across Sydney, believes more action is needed.

“The report does not achieve the urgent and necessary changes that hundreds of people called for in their submissions to the inquiry” says NTA spokesperson Garnett Brownbill.

“Most disappointing is the lack of requirement for a DA to be mandatory for every new synthetic installation so that environmental impacts are properly assessed. This is surprising given that this was voiced by so many groups involved in the workshops”.   

There are far more economical alternatives to synthetics that community groups are calling for – New Generation natural turf fields that rely on modern grass cultivars and soil science to provide increased usage soccer clubs require.  These fields have been built in Sydney over the past 8 years but the report ignored these examples, calling them “unproven’ with no evidence to back the claim.

It also consistently holds up hope for unproven 4G synthetic turf and downplays improvements from New Generation natural turf.

The report points to advances in 4G and cork infill synthetic fields being more environmentally friendly but fails to provide any evidence to back this claim – comprehensively failing to address microplastics from the degradation of the plastic yarn and heating impacts.

“Natural turf fields play a critical role in cooling cities while even the newest synthetic fields act as urban heat islands that increase carbon emissions and produce tonnes of non-recyclable plastic waste”, said Mr Brownbill.

“Councils will continue to increase their carbon footprint by converting numerous fields in their LGA’s which are too hot to use in the summer and limit access for families, children and locals with genuine open green space.”

Specifically, the NTA calls on the NSW Government to:

  1. Require DA’s for all new synthetic fields so that environmental impacts can be adequately assessed.
  • End NSW Government Grants for councils that tie local oval upgrades to synthetic ovals over modern natural turf alternatives.
  • No longer include synthetic ovals in targets for increasing open green space.
  • Limit the number of synthetic fields installed in LGAs due to climate implications of cumulative synthetic fields.
  • Force Councils who have installed synthetic fields with rubber-tyre infills to retrofit them with filters that stop plastic pollution currently entering Sydney’s waterways.
  • Commit to an Australian study into impacts of synthetic fields so that policy making is led by science rather that strategy documents produced by the synthetic turf industry.

“Allowing councils to keep on converting their ovals contradicts the NSW Government’s “Greening our City” targets, its various urban cooling initiatives, not to mention Minister Kean’s “plastics plan and waste strategy” added Garnett Brownbill.

Reining in the spread would be a very good start if NSW is to be a leader in protecting our environment, reducing waste and maximising recycling”.