How Safe are Your Kids!: Ignoring the Killer Dangers of Artificial Turf … for Politics and Profit

JUST SAYIN’-The alarm must be sounded!  The problems with the installation and use of artificial turf must neither be discounted nor minimized.  The apprehensions are not exaggerated and have not been blown out of proportion.  This increasingly momentous issue should be of concern to each and every one of us because the consequences of ‘crumb tire use’ affect all of us. 

As an environmentalist, I thought artificial turf for outside home-use and in parks and playgrounds would be a good idea.  For one thing, it would not require the use of our precious, but increasingly limited water.  It would eliminate the need for sprinkler heads which can cause trips and falls and injury.  There would be no water run-off problems.  But I realize just how wrong I have been! 

The reality is that studies have recently demonstrated how absolutely harmful nearly every facet of artificial turf is!  I shared my concerns with a number of leaders in a position to make decisions.  I spoke of the toxic chemicals used to produce the material; the other chemicals used to clean the material; the heat (by 10°  to 15°) produced in warmer weather which exceeds reasonable levels for exposure by players; the cleats which can get stuck in the material.  All this to no avail--my concerns were politely discounted.  

It has, however, been learned by experts who have devoted assiduous research into the effects of artificial turf (and shared with the public) how very harmful such exposure is.  The question surrounds the use of crumb rubber.  Old and discarded tires are ground to a pulp into little black beads (or black bugs) and used as a base for the synthetic grasses to hold them together and provide more bounce, thus hoping to preclude injury from hard falls.  

The fact is that these tires contain lethal carcinogens to which the casual athlete or team player is constantly exposed.  They breathe these particles in, get them in their mouths and noses, ingest them, get them in open wounds.  They bring them home in their hair and clothing where the beads drop to the floor and get into the water system as they bathe.  The fields often release them as gases into the very air that all living organisms breathe in. 

The poisonous, injurious, and often lethal materials include the following:  benzene, carbon black, mercury, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, arsenic, chromium, and lead.  We certainly need people like Erin Brockovich to stand up and take the lead in reversing demand for this turf, but, of course, the turf industry (including the Synthetic Turf Council) is already putting its resources into countering the facts.  Their deceitful and prevaricating ads and other responses are well-funded and powerful, but we cannot let them convince the powers-that-be to continue … or  even to expand … use of this dangerous material. 

Watchdog groups like Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) have approached government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the Office of Children’s Health Protection (OCHP) to urge further, deeper studies into the potential harm that prolonged exposure to this turf would produce.  

It seems that these government agencies are nearly all in denial and are “waiting” for real tragedy (as is so often the case) before they act on these requests.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission is working with manufacturers but has only received a concession for the voluntary development of standards regarding lead content.  That is a start, but what about all the other chemicals?  What about requiring firm standards that will address every aspect of this issue?  And then we have to ask: Why is the EPA so reticent about acting on this very real problem in the first place? 

Recently, you may have seen coverage on NBC television about this issue.  Soccer Coach Amy Griffin had beenvisiting some of her players, particularly goalies, who had wound up in the hospital with severe diagnoses.  One nurse said to her, “This (young woman) is the fourth goalkeeper I have hooked up (for chemo-therapy) this week!” 

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It was at this point that Griffin realized that there was a pattern of illness (clusters, if you will) and thus was motivated to keep track of the relationship between the various cancer diagnoses and exposure to crumb rubber in artificial turf.  She soon became aware that players have been suffering from thyroid illnesses, Hodgkin‘s Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (Jacqueline Kennedy died from this), and other carcinogen-based diseases as a result of this exposure (allegedly).  The goalies, in particular, are more vulnerable to these health challenges because they spend a good part of their time diving into and rolling over the grasses from which one can easily see “black clouds of tire pellets” rise into the air. 

I guess it would be no surprise that Monsanto is in the middle of this mess.  Back in 1964 it was responsible for creating the first synthetic turf grasses called ChemGrass.  It was laid in Houston’s Astrodome and thus acquired the name Astroturf.  

It and other companies are still manufacturing and selling these fields by convincing the decision-makers that the materials are perfectly safe.  Can you believe the nerve of these profit-motivated businesses?!  At this point there have been no thoroughly researched studies to prove that black beads are not dangerous.  Do we take a chance with our children’s lives that Monsanto is correct about their safety?! 

A newer generation of this turf was introduced about 10 years ago and pushed as being easier and less costly to maintain (which meant no need for fertilizer or pesticides).  That sounded good but did not take into consideration the cost to living organisms that would pay the price in sickness and death due to the effects of exposure to these substances! 

The fact is that every tire is different due to some variations in the chemicals used to produce them.  As a result, these synthetic fields are made up of a vast variety of chemicals, none of which any of us would knowingly ingest.  Yet these players ingest that material all the time! 

There are now 11,000 fields across the country (including the City and County of Los Angeles) which use the styrene butadiene rubber on their grounds.  Observers can certainly tell they are in the presence of these turf bugs when the tire material gives off a noxious scent in warm weather as the rubber gets heated and starts to melt. 

Currently, decisions to use or not use these fields have been left to the state and local authorities.  Has the Federal government washed its hands of its part in protecting the public from such hazards?  Our national leaders and organizations must give direction from the top down! 

I am part of a committee which helped develop guidelines for improving and renovating one of our County parks for better and expanded utilization by the public.  I was concerned (then and now) that part of the plan was using artificial turf for a portion of the land.  One issue for me was that through the expansion of artificial turf installation, there would be a reduction in the symbiotic process--all life, after all, depends on the production of oxygen by plants for the animal world while animals produce the necessary carbon dioxide for the plant kingdom.  The response to my valid concerns was a “reassurance” that the benefits would outweigh the disadvantages.  

I also remember my one-on-one conversation with LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.  I was in his downtown office and brought a number of concerns to him, including my apprehension over the use of artificial turf.  He brought me over to his window which overlooked a local high school whose football field had recently been replaced with the artificial turf in question.  He responded to my concerns by proudly declaring his eagerness to have all football fields use this turf.  End of discussion! 

In the meantime, we are learning more about the toxic effects of synthetic turf.  We cannot and must not be responsible for a generation of youngsters who become sick because of our ill-informed decisions.  It is certainly not too late to act, to insist that our leaders make better decisions on our behalf.  It is definitely welcome news that LAUSD has recently decided against further installations but what of those synthetic grasses which have already been laid?  What of the lawns and parklands and home landscaping where we can still find this turf? 

These questions must be addressed in a meaningful way, and we must demand truthful answers.  We must ask our City and County lawmakers to do what is necessary to assure the health and safety of all our citizens as well as that of the animal and plant world with which we interact on a daily basis.  And we must act immediately to insist that appropriate modifications be made while it is still possible to do so. 

Just sayin’.


(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written A Quick-and=Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition, Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts.  She also writes for CityWatch.)







Vol 12 Issue 84

Pub: Oct 17, 2014