A Cocktail of Harmful Chemicals in Artificial Turf Infill

Women's Soccer: SRJR at CCSF

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Tell the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ensure playgrounds, play surfaces & athletic fields for young athletes are safe by meeting the standards for lead & harmful chemicals set out in law for children’s products. Make your voice heard!


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What is Crumb Rubber?

Artificial turf that uses infill made from recycled tires (“crumb rubber”) contains a cocktail of toxic chemicals, including benzothiazole, carbon black, and heavy metals. As the Mt. Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center has written: “Exposures to chemicals present in crumb rubber at very high levels, typical of animal or occupational studies, are known to cause birth defects, neurologic and developmental deficits, and some can even cause cancer.

Children are particularly vulnerable to toxic threats. Children have increased exposure to toxic chemicals due to the unique way they interact with their environment. Because they are growing and developing, their bodies are also more susceptible than adults to chemical exposures.

Crumb rubber contains benzothiazole, which “exerts acute toxicity and is a respiratory irritant and a dermal sensitizer.” [ii]  Carbon black, which makes up 20-40% of crumb rubber, has been identified as a cancer-causing chemical by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Another concern is allergic reactions to the latex in crumb rubber.[iii]

Unfortunately, children’s exposure to these chemicals while using artificial turf fields has not been adequately studied. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in its most recent evaluation of its study of crumb rubber, determined that it was not possible for the agency to reach “comprehensive conclusions without the consideration of additional data.” The Center for Environmental Health believes that the health of our children is important enough to take action now.

Artificial turf also poses health hazards in addition to the problems caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. Fields containing crumb rubber often reach unsafe temperatures—one study at Brigham Young University recorded that their field reached a surface temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit on a 98 degree day.[iv] In addition, “turf burns” (abrasions) are more frequent and severe on artificial turf than grass.[v]

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery bases its tire management strategy upon supporting the production and use of recycled tire products while “providing a strong and fair regulatory framework to protect public health and safety and the environment.”[vi] While we agree with and support this mission, the use of recycled tires in children’s playgrounds and playing fields runs contrary to this goal.

The Center for Environmental Health recommends that schools, when feasible, replace crumb rubber infill with infill made from natural materials. Our recommendation is similar to those in New York City, which currently uses alternatives to crumb rubber infill in its new turf installations, and the Los Angeles Unified School District, which removed crumb rubber from play areas for young children.

We asked staff at the Piedmont Unified School District to comment on the district’s artificial turf installation at Havens Elementary School using a natural infill material, Infill Pro GEO, made by Geoturf. Staff reported that “it has been a very low maintenance product” and they “can’t say enough about how well the field drains.” Staff also noted that, “unlike crumb rubber, we have had no parent complaints about infill that hitchhikes home.”

If the resources to replace infill are not available, there are a number of ways to reduce exposures. Turf fields should not be used on extremely hot days and students should be monitored for heat-induced illness and abrasions. All crumb rubber pellets should be removed from students’ clothing, bodies, and equipment after playing. Students should always wash their hands thoroughly after exposure to the crumb rubber and never lie down or eat on the field.

Please join us in minimizing the exposure to toxic chemicals to give students the best possible learning environment.

We welcome your questions. Please contact CEH’s Research Director Caroline Cox at caroline@ceh.org.

For more information, see our factsheet here.


[i] “What to Know About Artificial Turf Fields.” Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center. http://www.mountsinai.org/static_files/MSMC/Files/Patient%20Care/Children/Childrens%20Environmental%20Health%20Center/ArtTurf_Fact%20Sheet_final_2011.pdf

[ii] Ginsberg, Gary, Brian Toal, and Tara Kurland. “Benzothiazole Toxicity Assessment in Support of Synthetic Turf Field Human Health Risk Assessment.” Connecticut Department of Public Health. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A: Current Issues. Volume 74, Issue 17, 2011. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15287394.2011.586943#tabModule

[iii]  Sullivan, Joseph. “An Assessment of Environmental Toxicity and Potential Contamination from Artifical Turf using Shredded or Crumb Rubber.” Ardea Consulting. http://www.ardeaconsulting.com/pdf/Assessment_Environmental_Toxicity_Report.pdf

[iv] Williams, C. Frank and Gilbert E. Pulley. “Synthetic Surface Heat Studies.” Brigham Young University. http://aces.nmsu.edu/programs/turf/documents/brigham-young-study.pdf

[v] Kazakova, Sophia V. and Jeffrey C. Hageman. “A Clone of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus among Professional Football Players.” New England Journal of Medicine. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa042859#t=articleTop

[vi] “California Waste Tire Market Report: 2012.” California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. May 2013. http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Publications/Documents/1462/20131462.pdf