The concerns over artificial sports pitches in the US and UK and how rubber infill is being blamed as a cancer risk. Why domestic surfaces don’t present a health risk.
While artificial grass is becoming more and more popular for sports, leisure, commercial and residential use, there has been negative publicity surrounding its possible health risks.
Artificial grass originally gained a foothold in America, and before long many sports fields were covered in an artificial surface. The Astrodome in Houston, Texas, gave its name to artificial grass – which became known as AstroTurf – when it became the first major sports venue to feature synthetic grass in the mid 1960s.
In order to keep the blades of artificial grass performing as they should, protect the surface from wear and tear, improve drainage and retain bounce properties, the surfaces use an infill usually made of rubber. More specifically, it’s rubber in granular form worked into the artificial grass and often known as ‘rubber crumb’.
A key benefit of using this type of rubber is the way recycling is deployed in the form of the rubber infill being made from old tyres. The problem is that the rubber used to manufacture tyres contains dangerous toxins such as lead, benzene and even arsenic so it’s been identified as a health hazard.
There are continued fears in the US that artificial surfaces using rubber infill are a health risk when people playing sport might come into direct contact with the rubber such as goalkeepers diving and players making sliding tackles. There is the concern of the rubber granules being ingested or coming into contact with open wounds, but studies so far have proved inconclusive.
The state of California is undertaking its third study – at a huge cost – to try and provide some concrete answers by the middle of 2018.
Meanwhile, some UK sports organisations including certain Scottish football clubs are engaging consultants and consulting with FIFA and industry associations to assess possible risks in the light of concerns coming from the US. So far they’re generally not convinced; Sport Scotland and FIFA don’t believe the research conducted to date points to overwhelming evidence of a cancer risk.
A synthetic pitch consultant working for a number of Scottish football clubs says lab studies conducted by his consultancy revealed vast quantities of rubber infill would have to be ingested to have a health impact in terms of exposure to cancer causing toxins.
Residential artificial grass is made in a different fashion to that of sports pitches. In general, because of there being less of a requirement for a hard wearing surface and catering to heavy foot traffic, artificial grasses for the garden are more like a carpet roll.
The manufacturing process is more akin to carpet manufacture; the synthetic grass is usually made from a polypropylene or polyethylene yarn which is tufted into a backing cloth and sealed.
When installing artificial grass, don’t skimp on quality. Use a reputable UK supplier with a demonstrable track record of previous installations for satisfied customers.
Don’t be tempted to import cheaper artificial grass, and think carefully before doing it yourself. It may look easy, but much of the surfaces’ longevity relies on not only the quality of the artificial grass but the preparation of the ground and base it will sit on in the years to come.
Lee Tombs is the Founder of Artificial Grass Installers, with over a decade’s experience, Lee and his team have installed artificial grass in hundreds of homes across Essex, London and Herts.