Study finds Toxic Cocktail in Synthetic Turf

Hundreds of synthetic sports fields in Sydney could be exposed to what independent testing has described as a “toxic cocktail” of chemicals.

Independent testing of a synthetic sports field in Sydney has found a “toxic cocktail” of chemicals capable of killing marine life and raising serious questions about the safety of those who play on it. 

Community Science Group, AUSMAP carried out the test on a field belonging to an unidentified Sydney Council. It believes the results are indicative of hundreds of synthetic sports fields across the country. 

“It is like a cocktail of chemicals sitting on these fields that we are potentially exposed to,” said research director, Dr Scott Wilson.

The group’s tests focused on what is known as “crumbed rubber,” a substance sprinkled across the field to provide support and replicate the play of a proper field. The crumb, however, is made from old, shredded tyres which by-in-large have been imported.

“In our study, where we looked at the rubber particles … We are able to find that heavy metals in particular were elevated,” he said. “Things like zinc, copper, arsenic lead are all present.

“Other compounds like PFAS and PAH compounds were also found. There was a cocktail of chemicals there,” he said.

PFAS is an umbrella term for thousands of man-made chemicals designed not to break down. The United States Environmental Protection Agency states, “studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS in the environment may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals.”

PAHs are another class of chemicals found in tyres. The British Journal of Cancer states PAHs have shown the capability to “cause mammary cancer in rodents.” While a separate 2022 study describes PAH’s ability to induce “troubles in female fertility.” 

Other studies found traces of the crumb in the saliva of players, opening a potential path for the chemicals into the blood stream.

With sports fields often flowing into creeks and rivers, AUSMAP conducted its own independent lab tests to examine the impact on marine life and the broader food chain. 

“Within a couple of days, the levels of chemicals in that water where the rubber crumb was sitting … was killing our crustaceans (and) our small little invertebrates that are the backbone of our eco system,” Dr Wilson told Sky News. 

“We were finding the chemicals present are immediately killing these animals because they are so highly toxic.”

The issue of crumbed rubber has led the European Union to begin the mammoth task of removing some 100,000 synthetic turf across 30 nations over the next eight years. 

It intends to replace the recycled tyre crumb with coconut or cork.

“What I can say is, be aware of the rubber granules and keep as far from them as possible. This is definitely what we are doing in Europe,” said Mercedes Marquez-Camacho, from the European Chemicals Agency.

As well as the effect on humans, the agency is equally worried about the spread of the tyre granules into the environment. And while they look to be rubber, the synthetic substance is actually made of plastic. 

It believes somewhere between one and five percent of all granules are lost each year, a figure it estimates to be a staggering 16,000 tonnes annually. 

“Your children, when they come home, they bring the rubber granules with them. And these rubber granules are made of materials that are carcinogens and also may damage the fertility and our hormonal systems,” said Ms Marquez-Camacho.

“And then when we think about the microplastics and the pollution of our environment and the understanding that there is in the scientific community that we all of us, we are drinking water that is contaminated with the microplastics, we are eating food that is contaminated with microplastics. These microplastics (are) in our bodies, and the real truth is that the scientists do not really know to what extent these microplastics may affect the human health. I would say that’s a worrying situation,” she said.

A 2022 report compiled by the New South Wales, Chief Scientist, Professor, Hugh Durrant-Whyte declared, “there is insufficient information and a lack of standards about the materials and chemical composition of synthetic turf.”

The chief scientist recommended following a ‘learn and adapt’ approach.

The report, which some believe has gone under the radar as a consequence of the 2023 election notes an increase in the state’s fields “from approximately 24 in 2014 and 30 in 2018.” to around 180 at the time. It’s now thought to be around 200 and growing.

While the European Union is moving away from the crumb, a new draft report for decision makers called “Synthetic Turf in Public Open Space” lays out the pros and cons of the fields, despite stating “research has suggested that biological pathogens, toxic chemicals and micro-plastic ingestion are all risks to human health that are associated with synthetic materials”.

It also notes the carpet itself – made up of forever chemicals – has a life span of eight to 10 years before needing replacement.

The European agency was careful to avoid any criticism of Australian councils and state governments, but did say in regard to the crumb, “we do know there are toxic chemicals in there, so spreading toxic chemicals in the environment, it doesn’t look like the best way to proceed.” 

AUSMAP’s Dr Wilson made it clear there is no direct link between the product and cancer in humans but is eager for a moratorium until scientists can investigate the impact of chemicals.

“We just haven’t done enough studies yet to understand the potential ecological impacts of what this material is causing,” he said.

“There’s not clear evidence of potential human health effects at this stage, but having said that, we should take a precautionary approach and not expose ourselves to that in the first instance.”

This article was published by Sky News Australia on 7th May 2024. Click here to view

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The Netherlands To Phase Out Artificial Turf Over Health And Environmental Concerns

In a significant move set to take effect from 2030 onwards, the Netherlands is poised to bid farewell to artificial grass on sports fields, opting for real grass surfaces instead. This is due to the increased cancer risks associated with artificial turf.

The artificial grass, often crafted from ‘rubber crumb’ or ‘crumb rubber’ composed of small pellets derived from discarded car tires, has raised alarm due to a study conducted across Dutch football clubs.

Of the 60 clubs involved in the study, the fields of 58 of them were found to contain 1.5 to 3.7 times higher levels of carcinogenic compounds than what is permissible in consumer products. These rubber crumb infill materials were found to harbour hazardous elements such as arsenic, benzene, carbon black, heavy metals, lead and mercury, among other carcinogens, posing potential health risks.

Amy Griffin, Associate Head Coach at the University of Washington women’s soccer team, conducted a study that compiled a list of 237 soccer players who predominantly played on artificial fields and later developed cancer. Interestingly, a majority of the affected players were goalkeepers, who had spent more time in contact with the artificial grass.

Tempering the findings to a certain extent, cancer specialist Bob Lowenberg pointed out, “There is absolutely no evidence that artificial grass pitches are bad for you, but we can’t definitively say they are safe. I think there is every reason to be concerned about artificial grass pitches.”

The Netherlands witnessed the pioneering introduction of synthetic turf in 2003 when Heracles Football Club installed it. At that time, it was considered groundbreaking, offering lower maintenance costs and eliminating the risk of matches being cancelled due to waterlogged or frozen pitches. However, players often voiced their displeasure with these surfaces, citing the increased risk of leg injuries and variations in the ball’s behaviour.

Jan Smit, the former chairman of Heracles and a trailblazer for plastic pitches, dismissed many objections, especially those related to injuries.

“You don’t hear anyone complain about artificial grass when it’s frozen for five days straight in February,” Smit snapped.

“On natural grass it becomes a mudbath and games have to be called off. And just look how bad the pitches are at clubs like Groningen and Utrecht.”

In contrast to overseas bans, Australia has seen a significant surge in the construction of synthetic fields. The chief scientist recommended that New South Wales (NSW) instead adopt an “accelerated learn and adapt approach.”

A recent report quietly released this year revealed that there are now 181 synthetic turf sports fields in NSW, a significant increase from just 24 in 2014 and 30 in 2018. Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, the chief scientist, highlighted “knowledge gaps” – especially regarding the materials and chemical composition of commonly used rubber infill.

The report also expressed concerns about the increased heat effects and doubts about claims around the turf’s performance in Australia’s climate. It remains unclear whether expectations regarding the longevity and carrying capacity of synthetic fields can be met under Australian climatic conditions, potentially influencing installation decisions and cost-benefit considerations.

The proliferation of synthetic turf not only raises serious health concerns but also has adverse environmental consequences, particularly the potential for microplastics from rubber infill to contaminate waterways.

The growing prevalence of synthetic turf underscores a fundamental issue, as noted by Dr. Sebastian Pfautsh, an Associate Professor in Urban Management and Planning at Western Sydney University.

“It really goes back to urban planning principles — as our cities expand and densify, we’re not simultaneously providing the necessary green space for recreation and recreational activities for these growing populations,” Pfautsh said.

It is clear that a measured and science-driven approach is vital to ensure the safety of athletes, the protection of our environment, and the overall enjoyment of sports. The Netherlands’ decision to prioritise natural grass fields is but one example of the ongoing dialogue and action on this front. The future of playing surfaces, and their impact on health, the environment and sports, remains a topic of considerable concern and interest.


Warning for synthetic turf manufacturers using PFAS

The US Environment Protection Authority Will Make Polluters Pay to Clean Up Two ‘Forever Chemicals’

The step follows an extraordinary move that requires utilities to reduce the levels of carcinogenic PFAS compounds in drinking water to near-zero.

The Biden administration is designating two “forever chemicals,” man-made compounds that are linked to serious health risks, as hazardous substances under the Superfund law, shifting responsibility for their cleanup to polluters from taxpayers.

The new rule announced on Friday empowers the government to force the many companies that manufacture or use perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA, and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, known as PFOS, to monitor any releases into the environment and be responsible for cleaning them up. Those companies could face billions of dollars in liabilitis.

The pair of compounds are part of a larger family of chemical substances known collectively as PFAS.

The compounds, found in everything from dental floss to firefighting foams to children’s toys, are called forever chemicals because they degrade very slowly and can accumulate in the body and the environment. Exposure to PFAS has been associated with metabolic disorders, decreased fertility in women, developmental delays in children and increased risk of some prostate, kidney and testicular cancers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The chemicals are so ubiquitous that they can be detected in the blood of almost every person in the United States. One recent government study discovered PFAS chemicals in nearly half of the nation’s tap water. In 2022, the E.P.A. found the chemicals could cause harm at levels “much lower than previously understood” and that almost no level of exposure was safe.

The announcement follows an extraordinary move last week from the E.P.A. mandating that water utilities reduce the PFAS in drinking water to near-zero levels. The agency has also proposed to designate seven additional PFAS chemicals as hazardous waste.

“President Biden understands the threat that forever chemicals pose to the health of families across the country,” Michael S. Regan, the administrator of the E.P.A., said. “Designating these chemicals under our Superfund authority will allow E.P.A. to address more contaminated sites, take earlier action, and expedite cleanups, all while ensuring polluters pay for the costs to clean up pollution threatening the health of communities.”

Under the new rule, companies are required to immediately report releases of PFOA and PFOS that meet or exceed one pound within a 24-hour period to the National Response Center, and also to state, tribal, and local emergency responders.

The E.P.A. said it was important to quickly catch PFAS contamination because delays allow the chemicals to migrate into soil and water supplies. But the rule could also compel companies to clean up contamination that had occurred years before if is detected in the newly compulsory tests.

PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the United States but can be imported in the form of consumer goods such as carpet, leather and apparel, textiles, paper and packaging as well as in coatings, rubber and plastics, the agency said.

“It’s long past time for the polluters who poisoned all of us to be held responsible,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization. “This comes too late for all the people who were poisoned without their knowledge or consent and have paid the price for one of the greatest environmental crimes in history. But today’s designation of PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances is the first step to bring justice to those who have been harmed.”

Shifting the cost of cleanup to polluters is “great news for the many communities grappling with PFAS contamination, many of which are also low income and communities of color,” said Dr. Tracey Woodruff, director at the Program on Reproductive Health & the Environment at the University of California, San Francisco. “This is another step toward protecting people from the health harms of this well-known toxic chemical.”

But industries that use the chemicals have said that the designation is too expensive and would lead to litigation that could impose new costs on businesses and communities and slow the cleanup of chemicals.

Hundreds of municipalities have sued PFAS manufacturers, alleging that the companies contaminated their water and soil.

Last year, 3M agreed to a $10.3 billion settlement with U.S. cities and towns over their claims of contamination. Under the sweeping settlement, 3M said it would pay out the money over 13 years to cities, counties and others across the country to test for and clean up PFAS in public water supplies. The company, which did not admit any liability, said the settlement covered remediation to water suppliers that detected the chemicals “at any level or may do so in the future.” 3M also said it would stop manufacturing PFAS chemicals by late 2025.

Ranier Lohmann, who leads the Superfund Research Center at the University of Rhode Island, said the new designation could help bring an end to the use of PFAS chemicals in consumer products, such as nonstick cookware, but not in large-scale industrial products, like industrial pipes or airplane wings.

The rule does not offer a new way for communities that have been contaminated with PFAS to compel chemical manufacturers to pay for removal. But Dr. Lohmann noted that it was designed to help reach that goal in the long run by forcing companies to clean up on-site PFAS contamination that could otherwise leach into drinking water.

The rule announced Friday also requires that federal entities that transfer or sell their property must provide notice about the storage, release, or disposal of PFOA or PFOS on the property and guarantee that contamination has been cleaned up or, if needed, that additional cleanup will occur in the future.

For decades, hundreds of military sites around the country used firefighting foam containing forever chemicals and nearby communities have some of the highest concentrations of PFAS contamination. Legal experts say it’s unclear whether taxpayers would now have to fund cleanup efforts or if the government would seek to recover costs from foam manufacturers.

The new listing will also lead the Department of Transportation to list and regulate these substances as hazardous materials under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act.

The rule will go into effect in 60 days.

This article was published in the New York Times on 20th April 2024 – CLICK HERE

Migration of Cork Infill at Tempe Recreation Reserve – April 2024

The photograph below reveals a distressing scene at the Tempe Recreation Reserve, where a recent deluge has wreaked havoc on the synthetic field, with its cork infill scattered and displaced. Of immediate environmental concern is the potential ecological repercussions, especially considering the likelihood of the cork infill being washed into the local creeks and waterways. This not only disrupts aquatic ecosystems but also poses broader environmental hazards as the particles spread through the water system.

Moreover, such instances highlight the hidden costs of synthetic fields, which are not often considered during their installation. While they may offer some durability and low maintenance, the environmental risks associated with their materials can be significant. Now, faced with the prospect of repairing or rebuilding the field, the financial implications are just as concerning. Rebuilding efforts are costly, and funds allocated to these projects are funds diverted from potential green spaces or other environmental initiatives.

In light of these challenges, it’s imperative that we re-evaluate the materials and designs we use for recreational spaces to ensure resilience to extreme weather, while also minimizing environmental impact. The cost of rebuilding, both environmentally and financially, should prompt us to consider more sustainable alternatives that align with our commitment to preserving and protecting our natural surroundings.

Athletes likely to have higher levels of PFAS after play on artificial turf

Athletes who play on artificial turf are likely to be coated with higher levels of toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” than before playing on the field, new research suggests, raising more questions about the controversial material’s safety.

All artificial turf is made with what public health advocates say is dangerous levels of PFAS. When the highly mobile chemicals break off from plastic grass blades, they can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled, ingested or get in open wounds.

The results from the small study, which looked at levels on the skin of several six-year-old soccer players and their coach, are preliminary, its authors stressed. However, the findings point to what many scientists have feared – artificial turf presents a health threat, said Kyla Bennett, a study co-author with the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility non-profit.

“In 2024, the last thing we should be doing is putting down acres of a plastic fossil fuel product … with chemicals that are going to get all over athletes’ skin, and into soil and water,” Bennett said. “It just boggles my mind that people are still considering using this stuff.”

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 15,000 chemicals often used to make products resist water, stain and heat. The compounds are linked to cancer, liver problems, thyroid issues, birth defects, kidney disease, decreased immunity and other serious health problems.

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 to help blades stand upright. Industry has said the grass blades and backing cannot be made without PFAS.

This article was published by The Guardian on Sat 16th March 2024. CLICK here to read the full article

Synthetic Grass Problems Revealed

TEC’s AUSMAP research into rubber crumb, a recycled granulate (<5mm) made from end-of-life tyres which is used as infill for synthetic turf fields and for playground surfaces, is attracting attention. It’s a collaborative effort with a northern Sydney council aiming to address current
knowledge gaps in relation to the loss of rubber crumb and synthetic grass blades, and the effectiveness of existing stormwater mitigation traps, at a synthetic sports field in Sydney’s north-west.

With over 180 synthetic sports fields in NSW alone, the loss of microplastics from these surfaces represents a significant waste stream into the environment. Moreover, a lack of current regulations for stormwater infrastructure, and limited community awareness, has contributed to ill-informed management of this worsening pollution problem. Despite growing concerns regarding the safety of rubber crumb, which has known toxic and carcinogenic properties, Australian studies and regulations on these materials remain in their infancy.

The study assessed the loss and capture of microplastics from the sports field, and preliminary results have highlighted that up to 70,000 particles of rubber crumb and over 50,000 particles of synthetic grass have been captured in a single trap sample

AUSMAP submitted these early findings to Penny Sharpe, NSW Minister for Environment, and Paul Scully, Minister for
Planning. We called for:

  1. a five-year moratorium on synthetic turf fields,
  2. minimum pollution mitigation measures,
  3. improved resilience techniques for natural turf fields, and
  4. substantial investment on research to address key knowledge gaps highlighted in the NSW Chief Scientist’s Report (CSE) on Synthetic

This came hot on the heels of AUSMAP’s recent presentation of evidence to the Federal Inquiry
into plastic pollution in Australia’s oceans and waterways, by Project Director Dr Michelle Blewitt
and Science Research Officer Juniper Riordan

This article was published in the Total Environment Centre Newsletter | 2023 Issue 2.

Rolled up: is synthetic turf on Australian sports fields worth the environmental risk?

It’s durable, resilient and lower-maintenance than natural grass – but there are still many downsides and unknowns to artificial turf

Two years ago the Northern Beaches council replaced the worn-out synthetic turf from a council oval, replacing natural grass with the product sometimes known as astroturf. The council had included in its contract a requirement that it be recycled and not sent to landfill – but federal legislation passed in 2020 meant that it was more difficult to export plastic waste to overseas facilities.

A permit was not granted, so the rolls of old turf sat for nearly 18 months until they were removed earlier this year. They are now in a container in a railway siding, awaiting the completion of a recycling plant capable of separating the various components that make up the product.

The challenges of what to do with worn-out artificial turf, combined with growing concern about microplastics and the likelihood of more extreme weather events, make for a complex debate about its use in Australia. The Alliance for Natural Turf – 16 community groups concerned about artificial turf – has asked the NSW government for a 5-year moratorium on rolling out the product.

They say NSW should employ precautionary principles, warning little is known about the long-term impacts of the microplastics and chemicals that it could shed – including forever chemicals perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS chemicals.

In June this year, the NSW government finally released a report by the chief scientist, Hugh Durrant-Whyte, that concluded there were significant environmental impacts from artificial turf but stopped short of recommending a ban. It estimated there were now 181 playing fields using artificial turf in NSW, up from 24 in 2014.

The main concern was potential plastic pollution. Most synthetic sports fields in NSW feature long synthetic blades supported by infill; the most commonly used infill is styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) crumbs sourced from recycled tyres.

The SBR crumb is the material most associated with community concerns about contamination. But the chief scientist says there is insufficient information and a lack of standards about the materials and chemical composition of the synthetic turf itself.

“Expert advice to the review estimated that a synthetic turf field without structures to reduce infill loss will wash tens to hundreds of kilograms of infill per year into stormwater systems or waterways,” the report states.

“The amount of turf fibres lost from a synthetic turf field is likely to be in the hundreds of kilograms per year, with the amount increasing for fields near the end of life or under poor maintenance.”

One of the big drivers of increasing installation of artificial turf is population density and increased demands on sporting grounds.

“All councils in Sydney face increasing demand for more sports fields to meet the needs of [a] growing participation in sport,” Sue Heins, the mayor of the Northern Beaches, says.

Northern Beaches council manages 127 sports fields. Six of these are synthetic and allow almost double the playing time of natural grass.

“These new surfaces are more resilient and unlike natural turf, they do not require returfing or weed control and can still be used in wet weather – meaning more play time,” Hein says.

“We have measures in place to prevent any environmental impact of these synthetic surfaces, such as using cork infill instead of rubber and ensuring old synthetic turfs are responsibly recycled at the end of their lifespan”.

Artificial turf is formed from soft plastic blades of ‘grass’ and rubber, which require special facilities to recycle. Photograph: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

But balanced against the more durable surfaces that artificial turf offers are concerns about heat island effects of the artificial product in cities. Unlike natural turf, which stays cool in the sun, artificial grass heats up quickly because it absorbs more solar radiation.

“It’s a material that, like polished metal slides, can cause severe burn injuries,” says Sebastian Pfautsch, an associate professor of urban management and planning at Western Sydney University.

His research has shown that synthetic turf in playgrounds can heat up to temperatures greater than 80C, even when the ambient temperature is less than 30C. Sometimes sprinkler systems are needed to cool the surface, which in part defeats the water savings associated with artificial turf.

A spokesperson for Sydney’s Inner West council, which has four synthetic fields, says it uses an organic infill to help reduce the heat during hot weather. It was also aiming to plant more trees to reduce the heat island effect.

Following the restrictions on exporting plastic waste, Australian artificial grass manufacturer Tuff Turf has partnered with Sustainability Victoria to build a recycling plant at Barnawartha, near the Victoria-NSW border.

Re4orm is due to open early next year, and according to its director, Trent Cummings, some 2m square metres of artificial turf from Sydney playing fields will be replaced in the next six to eight year.

The purpose-built facility will separate the turf into individual components, reducing waste to landfill and significantly decreasing the C02 emissions released in landfill, Cummings says.

The first stage is to separate the sand, crumb (usually rubber) and “gunk” from the plastic matting. The sand and rubber is then cleaned for reuse.

The mat is then shaved of the grass blades so the plastic grass can be melted down into polyurethane pellets and stabiliser, which can be used in products such as boards for landscaping and seats.

Cummings says Re4orm’s service will work on all synthetic turf. The backing, which makes up about 3-4% of the weight of the product, is more complex, but will also be recycled into latex and other plastics.

“We need the government to do more research to create products using recycled material,” says Cummings.

Most of the shockpads underneath the turf are now imported, but there is no reason why it can’t be made here using recycled inputs, he says.

The old artificial turf from the Northern Beaches will be one of the first artificial surfaces to be put through Re4orm’s process. But in the meantime, councils are likely to face increasing questions from their communities about the environmental safety of the product.

This article was first published in The Guardian on 28th October 2023. Click here to view the original article

What are the effects of flood waters on synthetic turf fields?

This article was posted at

With unprecedented rain events over the past 6 months, in New South Wales and Queensland, synthetic grass fields and courts have been affected to varying degrees. In the worst cases, fields have been made unplayable, requiring complete re-builds, while other facilities have been left with extensive cleanup projects.

What have we learnt and what can we take away from the results of the effects of recent flood events?

Quite often our sports fields/courts are constructed in low-lying, flood-prone areas (due to these sites not being suitable for property development).

Thus, knowing that at some stage through the life of the facility, it will be subject to flooding, we can design to mitigate or minimize the damage floods will cause.

Flood damages for long pile synthetic grass fields

These surfaces have paid a heavy price in some instances where flood waters and in particular the velocity of the flood waters, have had major impacts on the surface, requiring some fields to be completely removed and a new surface re-laid at considerable costs.

Long pile synthetic grass fields require the sand infill to act as ballast and weight the field down, so there is no movement during use. The rubber or organic performance infill is the top layer of the system.

Flood waters can impact these fields in two main ways:

  • Flood waters rising above the perimeter edge of the field and flowing across the field. These waters bring contaminants onto the field, which filter down through the infill and sit within the synthetic grass layer. The contaminants ( ie silts, mud, organic material etc. ) need to be removed once the flood event has passed, which can require all the infill to be removed and replaced.
  • Some of the infills can be lifted by the water and be carried with the flood waters off the field. Thus additional infill material is required and the field will need to be re- groomed to the correct levels.
  • In extreme cases, the speed at which flood waters travel across the field, can flow underneath the synthetic grass and lift the entire system, grass and infill, and push/wrinkle the synthetic grass. In these cases, it is very difficult to pull the grass back into position without damaging the grass. The synthetic grass will often have to be removed from the site and new grass and infill installed.
  • Flood waters backing back up through the external stormwater system and back into the field stormwater system. The stormwater water from the rainfall event is unable to discharge from the field and starts to back up through the synthetic grass and ponds on the surface.

As a result, some of the infills may be carried off the field at the low end and will be replaced and the field re-groomed.

What are the possible solutions for mitigating flood damages on long pile synthetic grass fields?

  • Design fields with upstands around fields, which are above the High Water Level of storm event being considered. The aim is to divert flood waters around the field. Also, having a raised upstand provides a retention volume to keep infill within the field of play.
  • Provide grated pits downstream of the field stormwater system, to allow stormwater that is backing up in the system to surcharge before entering back under the field.
  • Design of vertically draining pavements, to allow for retention of stormwater within the field.

Flood damages for short pile synthetic grass fields/courts

Short pile synthetic grass is generally used for Hockey fields, Tennis Courts and Multi-use courts. These surfaces are generally weight down with sand infill, to hold the surface in place.

Flood waters have similar impacts as with long piles, contaminants are deposited over the surface, as flood waters pass over the top surface and potentially move the grass surface or disturb the underlying base pavement.

The main impact flood waters can impact on these fields/courts is flood waters rising above the perimeter edge of the field and flowing across the field/court. These waters bring contaminants onto the field, which filter down through the infill and sit within the synthetic grass layer. The contaminants (ie silts, mud, organic material etc) can be removed with high-pressure water cleaning. A majority of the sand infill will also be removed during the cleaning process and will need new sand to be installed to the correct levels.

If the synthetic grass surface is not glued around the perimeter, there is the risk of flood waters moving at speed across the surface, can enter under the grass and causing damage to the underlying base pavement (Crushed rock, Asphalt or Concrete).

If the surface is laid on crushed rock, the rock surface can be scoured, leaving the surface with depressions and ridges. The synthetic grass surface will need to be removed and the base regraded and compacted.

With synthetic grass laid on asphalt or concrete, the flood waters can leave silts and mud behind on the asphalt or concrete pavement. Again the synthetic grass will need to be removed, to allow the contaminates to be pressure washed off the surface and then the grass re-laid.

With Hockey Fields / Courts, stormwater is moved horizontally across the surface to an external stormwater drainage system, thus is unlikely to be affected by water backing up in the stormwater system. In general, there is no internal subsurface drainage system within the field or courts, thus no risk of contamination returning through the external system.

Short pile sand-filled synthetic turf Field of Play surface being damaged by floodShort pile sand-filled synthetic turf Field of Play surface being damaged by flood

What are the possible solutions for mitigating flood damages on short pile synthetic grass fields/courts?

  • Design fields/courts with upstands around the perimeter, which is above the High Water Level of storm event being considered. The aim is to divert flood waters around the field and also provides a retention volume to keep infill within the field of play.
  • Provide grated pits downstream of the field stormwater system, to allow stormwater that is backing up in the system to surcharge before entering back under the field.
  • Adhere/glue the synthetic grass to concrete perimeter edges, to prevent flood waters from entering beneath the surface.

Cool grass, hot grass

An article by Elizabeth Farrelly | 4th July 2023 | ArchitectureAU | Click here to view the article

Elizabeth Farrelly considers an under-acknowledged modernist ally – grass – and how the lazy overuse of synthetic substitutes is leading to overheating, increased toxicity and degradation of the natural and urban environments.

Grass, as a species, is overused, downtrodden and wildly under-acknowledged. Its velvety coolness underfoot as the earth gently exhales on a cicada-spangled evening is just one of its astonishing properties. Now, grass is back in the news – but it’s not the familiar debate over cow-fart. This time, it’s that time-honoured question of whether nature or technology knows best. If nature plays difficult, should we just go ahead and fake it?

Last week, the New South Wales government finally released the chief scientist’s long-awaited report on the dangers of synthetic turf. The report stopped short of recommending a ban on synthetic turf containing toxic “forever chemicals,” as in California and elsewhere, but it did raise significant concerns.

At a meta level, you’d think our species’ lazy and lamentable history of substituting the synthetic for the natural might give us pause. Consider, for example, errors of overreach like industrial food (with its links to epidemic obesity), chemical pesticides (with their links to cancer and bee death) and the replacement of breast milk with formula.

Small, [grass] underpins our food chain, turning sunlight into nutrients. Tall, as bamboo up to 30 metres high, it has the strength and suppleness required for scaffolding and structure.

Yet, the use of synthetic turf – or “astroturf” – is skyrocketing. The chief scientist’s report notes a six-fold increase in four years, from 30 synthetic sports fields in New South Wales in 2018 to around 181 in 2022. (In fact, that count is probably conservative, since it excludes sports like lawn bowls and the growing deployment of synthetic turf in schools and private homes.) Other states are no doubt folowing a similar trajectory.

Before considering the evils of astroturf, though, let’s consider the goodness of natural grass. Grass is versatile. Small, it underpins our food chain, turning sunlight into nutrients. Tall, as bamboo up to 30 metres high, it has the strength and suppleness required for scaffolding and structure. As ground cover, it nurtures an elegant unseen symbiosis with the microbiome, feeding with special sugars the microbes that supply it with absorbable phosphates and other nutrients.

At a symbolic level, grass has long offered egalitarian metaphors – from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass poetry collection (1855) to the idea of “grassroots democracy,” which plays on both its uniformity and its connective underground resilience.

Mostly, though, we in the suburb-ocene consider grass a servant species, both subject and agent in our dominion over nature. In Manet’s 1863 painting Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), the grass mediates between the sombre, serge-clad commerciality of the men – serious and work-minded – and the woman’s stark white flesh. As nature tamed, grass-as-lawn manifests man’s power to dominate nature and woman, both.

The city would never have been vacated for business had not the entire act of dwelling been sent centrifugally to grass. So perhaps, as both tool and threat, grass was always a candidate for modernism’s competitiveness, its determination to not only dominate nature but outdo her.

This tension between dominance and subversion made grass a modern favourite, yet its potency remains under-acknowledged. Quite as much as steel and concrete, grass was the enabling material of modernity. The city would never have been vacated for business had not the entire act of dwelling been sent centrifugally to grass. So perhaps, as both tool and threat, grass was always a candidate for modernism’s competitiveness, its determination to not only dominate nature but outdo her. Now, grass is seen as little more than an outdoor flooring material. I’m reminded of that old joke about husbands and carpet tiles: lay it properly the first time and you can walk all over it forever.

Which brings us neatly to the idea of faking it. Astroturf, first manufactured in the US in 1966, was always considered the ultimate kitsch. Sadly, we’ve lost those inhibitions and artificial turf is very much on the rise in sports fields across the country. This push is driven by supposedly practical considerations of cost and wear. But how practical is it, actually, to invest in a product whose environmental impacts include water contamination, biodiversity loss, canopy loss, soil death and intensified urban heat? And all this in the face of climate change!

Synthetic grass comprises several layers: the plastic blades, then a layer of infill – most commonly rubber crumb made from old tyres, but sometimes cork – set into a waterproof membrane. Tyres are not manufactured in Australia, meaning we have little or no control over the chemicals contained therein. But rubber crumb – which is used in “safe” children’s playgrounds and sports surfaces as well as synthetic turf – contains heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs, called “forever chemicals” because they hardly degrade in the natural environment) and other nasties. It is known to leach zinc, rubber polymers and vulcanizing chemicals, including the fabulously named N-(1,3-Dimethylbutyl)-N’-phenyl-p-phenylenediamine-quinone and other toxins that, together, have given rise to the “urban runoff mortality syndrome” observed in salmon exposed to untreated stormwater.

The teeming microbiome dies, leading to soil compaction and root death in nearby trees, which causes more biodiversity loss and shade depletion, and further accelerates degradation of the synthetic materials, intensifying the toxic runoff.

This leachate is marginally less toxic where cork is used as an infill instead of rubber. But in either case, the increased breakdown caused by both Australia’s intense UV radiation, and the extreme heat and rain events associated with climate change, can only accelerate the degradation and subsequent contamination. The fact that Australia’s sporting fields are usually treeless and unshaded, and often located on marginal land that is especially prone to flooding, only exacerbates this. The chief scientist – with input from 24 other highly credentialled academics – estimates that a single Australian synthetic sporting field will generate, per year, 10–100 kilograms of rubber-crumb pollution and hundreds of kilograms of microplastic pollution in the form of lost grass blades.

Then there’s soil death. Synthetic turf’s waterproof layer, pierced only by horizontal or vertical drainage mechanisms, leaves the soil beneath profoundly parched. The teeming microbiome dies, leading to soil compaction and root death in nearby trees, which causes more biodiversity loss and shade depletion, and further accelerates degradation of the synthetic materials, intensifying the toxic runoff.

More dangerous still is the heat. Australia is getting hotter faster than most of the world. Sebastian Pfautsch, an associate professor at Western Sydney University and an expert in urban heat, says that by 2050–60, we could experience three months of days above 35 degrees Celsius. Already, air temperatures hit 50 degrees Celsius in some parts of Sydney. Far from cooling its surrounds as natural grass does, synthetic turf can be several degrees hotter than the ambient temperature, increasing heat-stress on both people and the already degraded soil.

The arguments for synthetic turf hinge on cost of maintenance and intensity of use. But need it be quite so intense? Soil scientist and sports turf specialist Nick Battam notes that, given standard hours of work and school, it is rare for sports field demand to exceed 40 hours per week. And if the usage is any higher, the lifespan of synthetic turf is reduced, raising significant questions about the disposal and recycling of these toxic ingredients, not to mention the cost and embodied energy of replacement. This cost is significant and tends to result in councils barring public access. (Nobody wants doggy-do and chip papers on their expensive plastic grass.) And then there’s the smell, the outgassing, the fungicides used to kill the greeblies that breed in the infill layer …

Rather than offering public land for private development, as the premier of New South Wales Chris Minns proposes, surely it would be better to use such public land to ensure that the necessary densification of our cities is accompanied by enough natural green space. When fully hydrated, properly shaded and equipped with water-recycling and planting programs, such spaces enhance local cooling, biodiversity and carbon absorption. And that’s in addition to the mental and physical health benefits of biophilia. I think it’s called long-term public benefit. Wouldn’t that be a nice change?

Turf wars: The courtroom battle over artificial turf safety may be closer than we think

This article was posted by Jennifer Steinmetz and Lucy Richman | July 6, 2023 | Reuters. Click here to view article

Many may remember a dramatic moment from the 2022 Super Bowl, when star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. suffered a serious non-contact knee injury while catching a pass. Beckham Jr. took the following season off to recover, and his injuries reignited a longstanding debate about the safety of artificial turf fields. Many National Football League (NFL) players and their supporters took to social media, speaking out against turf and supporting a campaign, #FlipTheTurf, to pressure NFL teams to switch from turf fields to grass.

Artificial turf has long been used in sports as a replacement to natural grass. This alternative has both practical and cost-saving benefits as it does not need sunlight or water, so it can be used year-round in enclosed stadiums.

Turf consists of three components: (1) plastic grass blades bundled into individual “tufts;” (2) a backing material to which the tufts are attached; and (3) an adhesive used to secure the tufts to the backing. The turf is stabilized by the presence of “infill” — typically ground rubber or sand — placed between the artificial blades to provide added support.

As early as the 1970s, players’ observations and concerns about turf sparked research into its safety. A study by K. Douglas Bowers Jr. and R. Bruce Martin at the University of West Virginia in 1974 responded to players’ observations that their turf had gotten “harder” over the years and showed that the school’s turf field’s ability to absorb impact decreased over time. A 1992 study specifically focused on the relationship between turf fields and football injuries, finding a statistically significant increase in injuries in some, but not all, lower extremity injuries during games played on turf. John W. Powell and Mario Schootman, “A Multivariate Risk Analysis of Selected Playing Surfaces in the National Football League: 1980 to 1989,” 20 Am. J. Sports Med. 686 (1992).

Synthetic turf surfaces can be problematic because they do not create the same divot as natural grass and therefore lack the ability to release a cleat in a potentially injurious overload situation. Christina D. Mack, et al., “Higher Rates of Lower Extremity Injury on Synthetic Turf Compared With Natural Turf Among National Football League Athletes,” 47 Am. J. of Sports Med. 189, 192 (2019). This generates greater sheer force and torque on the foot and throughout the lower extremity, potentially contributing to increased injuries. Id.

As turf products have evolved over time, new research findings have followed. Some continue to find that turf is less safe for athletes than natural grass, while others find little to no difference, or even that turf has safety advantages over natural grass. What remains the same is that players and researchers alike continue questioning which surface is safer.

The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) has taken a strong public stance against turf fields, advocating that “NFL clubs should proactively change all field surfaces to natural grass.” J.C. Tretter, “Only Natural Grass Can Level the NFL’s Playing Field,” NFLPA, (last visited Jun. 28, 2023). In an April 2023 statement, the NFLPA accused the NFL of twisting historical injury data to support the NFL’s contention that turf fields are safe. J.C. Tretter, “Why the NFL’s Approach to Field Surfaces is Uneven,” NFLPA, Apr. 19, 2023.

In pushing back on the NFL’s reporting of synthetic turf safety data, the NFLPA cited to a recent study finding that “[p]lay on synthetic turf resulted in a 16% increase in injuries as compared with play on natural turf…across all lower extremity injuries resulting in any missed football participation.” Mack, et al., supra.

While some turf-safety studies appear to be independent, the Mack study was funded in part by the NFL. Some studies coming to opposite conclusions — that turf is as safe or safer than grass — have been funded in part by turf manufacturers or other professional organizations. Should the various studies ever be used for authority in litigation, their authors’ potential conflicts of interest may become a point of contention.

So when will the turf debate enter the courtroom? At least one turf manufacturer is already facing a number of lawsuits alleging that its product did not live up to durability or lifespan promises represented in advertising and marketing materials. See generally Consolidated Amended Class Action Compl., In re Fieldturf Artificial Turf Marketing and Sales Practices Litig., No. 3:17-md-2779 (D.N.J. Oct. 20, 2017). Counts against the manufacturer include fraud, breach of warranty and violation of consumer protection laws.

Given recent publicity and the NFLPA’s involvement in the issue, lawsuits claiming personal injury resulting from play on turf may be just around the corner. This could generate a mass of prospective plaintiff athletes just as we saw with the concussion litigation of years past. An August 2019 settlement required the NCAA to pay $70 million to fund concussion screens and testing for former college athletes, with an additional $5 million toward medical research. In October 2021, the NFL reached a $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players.

Plaintiffs alleging injuries from artificial surfaces can look to several potential target defendants including: (1) turf manufacturers; (2) companies that manufacture the various component parts of turf; and (3) turf purchasers, particularly high schools, universities and major sports franchises. Expected allegations would follow a traditional products liability model, involving counts for both design defect and failure to warn.

Certain elements of a turf field’s design may have an impact on safety, as noted in the Mack study above, in that they do not release a cleat in the same way as natural grass. Players may claim that turf manufacturers failed to design their fields to protect players from foreseeable lower extremity injuries, given the speed and force that high caliber athletes reach while practicing and competing. The availability of a feasible alternative design — natural grass — may also carry weight in some jurisdictions.

Failure to warn claims are also likely, particularly given that turf manufacturers tout safety — some including that their artificial turf is a safer alternative to grass — as a focus of their product development and as a key selling point.

Plaintiffs (and their counsel) will face a considerable challenge, however, identifying sound authority linking turf to non-contact lower extremity injuries. It may be that additional studies are necessary before waging litigation. Plaintiffs may also need to spend resources testing their theories and/or working up credible expert witnesses to back their allegations. Other contributing causes to the claimed injuries, such as a player’s weight or choice of footwear, may create additional obstacles for these plaintiffs.

The debate over the safety of artificial turf does not end with lower extremity injuries. A March 2023 report from the Philadelphia Inquirer recently publicized a possible link between glioblastoma, a rare brain cancer, and turf fields. David Gambacorta and Barbara Laker, “Field of Dread,” Phila. Inquirer, Mar. 12, 2023.

The connection follows the deaths of six former Philadelphia Phillies baseball players, all of whom died from glioblastoma after spending the majority of their careers playing for the Phillies. The Phillies played on a turf field from 1971 to 2003.

The Inquirer article points to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contained in artificial turf as a possible cause of cancer, noting that testing of samples from the old Phillies’ turf field found 16 different types of PFAS present in the turf. See Laker and Gambacorta, supra.

PFAS, referred to as “forever chemicals” because they are highly resistant to breakdown in the human body and environment, have been linked to a variety of serious health conditions including low birth weight, reduced immune response, liver damage and cancer. While evidence of PFAS in turf fields causing glioblastoma is only anecdotal at this point, plaintiffs’ lawyers have latched on to the Phillies story and are using it to solicit clients for “artificial turf cancer” litigation via firm websites and/or social media.

The effects of PFAS are already widely debated and litigated, including through the Aqueous Film-Forming Foams (AFFF) Products Liability Litigation (MDL No. 2873, District of South Carolina). In June 2023, four defendants in that litigation reached settlements of over $11 billion related to claims that PFAS chemicals contaminated drinking water around the country. This type of result (and publicity) may pave the way for PFAS claims related to artificial turf, and it seems as though plaintiffs’ lawyers already have an eye on it.

One thing is clear — the dispute over the safety of artificial turf is not going away. Further studies are needed to better understand the potential health effects surrounding turf fields and, until we have more clarity, plaintiffs are going to face an uphill battle. On the other hand, as many know, the courtroom sometimes becomes a place where the seeds of science are tested. And with the public voice of the NFLPA speaking out and inspiring other injured athletes to do the same, litigation may be closer than we think.