Synthetic turf with crumb rubber infill has been installed on fields around the world, but it recently has been under scrutiny. Many are blaming the infill for causing disease, state legislation is calling for further studies and one Washington community has temporarily banned use of the product.
An attendee of a panel discussion hosted by Civitas at the 2016 Sport Turf Managers Association Conference asked about crumb rubber, and panelist John Sorochan, Ph.D., professor of turfgrass science at the University of Tennessee volunteered his opinion.
“What I have seen so far from people that are experts and the toxicology reports… they aren’t seeing anything to be alarmed. It’s below what they would think would be hazardous,” Sorochan says. “There are plenty of other ways to be exposed to rubber.”
The example of daily exposure to rubber that Sorochan provided are the hundreds of thousand of cars and the billions of tires that are on the roads and highways.
For those who want to learn more about crumb rubber, Sorochan recommends looking at the collection of 43 scientific articles on Penn State University’s plant science website. Various research from Penn State, articles from scientific journals and studies conducted by state governments are listed.
The most recent scientific article on the website is titled, “Environmental health impacts of artificial turf: a review.” The abstract of the article addresses concerns of crumb rubber, but agrees with Sorochan.
“Tire rubber crumb contains a range of organic contaminants and heavy metals that can volatilize into the air and/or leach into the percolating rainwater, thereby posing a potential risk to the environment and human health. A limited number of studies have shown that the concentrations of volatile and semivolatile organic compounds in the air above artificial turf fields were typically not higher than the local background, while the concentrations of heavy metals and organic contaminants in the field drainages were generally below the respective regulatory limits. Health risk assessment studies suggested that users of artificial turf fields, even professional athletes, were not exposed to elevated risks. Preliminary life cycle assessment suggested that the environmental impacts of artificial turf fields were lower than equivalent grass fields.”
When asked about research to look for in the future, Sorochan says that Cal Recycling is beginning to research. He thinks it’s going to be “the best stuff,” but adds that there needs to be more research done on all kinds of turf.
“One good thing (crumb rubber) has done, it has brought recognition to what we are doing,” Sorochan says. “It just opens up how little research there is in the sports turf world, and how much more we need to make natural and artificial better.”