Artificial Turf

Artificial Turf and P.F.A.S.

Years ago, when our Peters Township high school switched its football field from natural grass to artificial turf, I was asking one of the right questions:
Where will the artificial turf get disposed of when it’s replaced after 10 years?
There were additional questions I should have been asking.
A 2019 story by Pete Myers of Environmental Health News, brought to light additional concerns about artificial turf, including the fact there were 120 tons (240,000 pounds) of artificial turf disposed of from just two soccer fields in Virginia:
The hidden “gotcha” in artificial turf installations

Pete Myers writes: “When school systems, universities and colleges, or local governments choose to install artificial turf fields, they seem all bright, shiny green and clean. How many of those buyers pay attention to the endgame—the disposing of many tons of hazardous waste? With heightened awareness around the country about the health effects of P.F.A.S., calculations for what artificial turf installations actually cost over their full life-time, including disposal in facilities capable of managing hazardous chemicals, may send a shock through the artificial turf industry and the many schools and sports facilities who want more shiny green stuff.” Environmental Health News Source

What is P.F.A.S.? pronounced “P Fas”

From the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: “Certain P.F.A.S. can accumulate and stay in the human body for long periods of time. There is evidence that exposure to P.F.A.S. can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans. The most-studied P.F.A.S. chemicals are P.F.O.A. and P.F.O.S.. Studies indicate that P.F.O.A. and P.F.O.S. can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. Both chemicals have caused tumors in animals. The most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations. Drinking water can be a source of exposure in communities where these chemicals have contaminated water supplies.” Link to E.P.A. Source

Links to C.D.C. – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Video and Webpage

  • 1930’s to 1950’s – P.F.A.S. is first synthesized. Production for use in nonstick coatings and stain- and water- resistant products begins.
  • 1968 – Evidence of P.F.A.S. in human serum first observed.
  • 1980’s – Preliminary P.F.A.S. toxicity studies in rodents suggest possibility of health effects.
  • 1999 – P.F.A.S. detected in over 98 percent of serum samples collected from the general U.S. population.
  • 2006 – Eight major P.F.A.S. manufacturers begin to phase out P.F.O.A. and related compounds.
  • High cholesterol
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Thyroid disease
  • Testicular cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Pregnancy induced hypertension

This slide on P.F.O.A. is a reminder of the movie released in 2019 – DARK WATERS – starring Mark Ruffalo as as the environmentally-conscious lawyer Robert Bilott. Link to Movie trailer

The Real Story Behind ‘Dark Waters’

The film from Todd Haynes focuses on Robert Bilott, an attorney who took on the goliath chemical company DuPont. Upon accepting the case, Bilott discovered that DuPont had been dumping chemical waste — including an unregulated chemical compound called Perfluorooctanoic acid or P.F.O.A. — near the site where Tennant was raising cattle. P.F.O.A. wasn’t public knowledge at the time, but during his research, the lawyer was given access to 160,000 DuPont files which revealed that the company had been using the substance since 1951. The farmer was right: the waste had killed his livestock, and Bilott ensured that he received compensation in the form of an out of court settlement. Before Bilott discovered the truth about DuPont’s use of P.F.O.A., however, the company almost won the case.

Scenes from the movie DARK WATERS starring Mark Ruffalo

How does P.F.A.S. play a role in artificial turf?

Sharon Lerner of The Intercept writes:

“P.F.A.S. chemicals are used widely to help with the molding and extrusions of plastic, according to a 2005 paper from the Journal of Vinyl and Additive Technology. The latest version of the synthetic turf, which is prized for its durability, is made with plastic polymers that are molded into the shape of grass blades when in molten form. In 2014, soccer coach Amy Griffin realized that an alarming number of goalkeepers had developed cancer after playing on turf fields and began tallying all the athletes she could find in the same situation. By January 2019, her list included 260 young football, baseball, lacrosse, and soccer players with cancer. Griffin has repeatedly called for more research. But so far, scientists have focused on the chemicals in the crumb rubber spread over turf and not on the other components of the plastic grass.” Link to the Source

In May 2017, The Children’s Environmental Health Center of Mount Sinai called for a moratorium on artificial turf generated from recycled rubber tires:

“Position: Based upon the presence of known toxic substances in tire rubber and the lack of comprehensive safety studies, The Children’s Environmental Health Center of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai urges a moratorium on the use artificial turf generated from recycled rubber tires. In addition to crumb rubber infill, artificial athletic turf consists of synthetic grass blades and several layers of backing materials. To date, the safety of these materials has not been proven. While manufacturers claim that a number of scientific studies indicate low risk of harm from recycled tiring playing surfaces, these studies were not conducted in a rigorous manner comprehensive enough to prove safety.” Link to the Source

Another study was published in May 2008:
A REVIEW OF THE POTENTIAL HEALTH AND SAFETY RISKS FROM SYNTHETIC TURF FIELDS CONTAINING CRUMB RUBBER INFILL – Prepared for New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York, New York – Prepared by TRC Windsor, Connecticut – May 2008

Candy Woodall of the York Daily Record provides us with some statistics:

‘Running out of room’: How old turf fields raise potential environmental, health concerns
“There are about 12,000 to 15,000 turf fields in the United States and another 1,200 and 1,500 are opening each year. In the growing European market there are 4,100 new turf fields per year. As fields are replaced, billions of pounds of rubber and synthetic fiber are piling up because the U.S. has no plan for disposing of this product. Used artificial turf is expected to produce 1 million to 4 million tons of waste in the next 10 years, and it has nowhere to go, according to solid waste industry analysts. Despite being touted as a completely recyclable alternative to grass, there are no companies in the U.S. that can completely recycle them. The fields frequently end up in empty lots, backyards, in public spaces and on private land. Sometimes, they are given permission to be there. In some cases, they have been dumped illegally by contractors paid to remove them.” Link to Source

This satellite photo from Google Earth shows thousands of rolls of turf at a private business in Cleona, a small borough in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. Source: Google Maps

P.F.A.S. in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is working closely with public water systems and local governments across the Commonwealth to address these emerging contaminants. The D.E.P. will take immediate steps to mitigate the impact on public health if combined concentrations of P.F.O.A. and P.F.O.S. exceed the H.A.L. of 70 ppt. Links to Source and the P.F.A.S. Sampling Plan

Table 1 from 11 April 2019: A linear connection between industries producing or using P.F.A.S., the general uses of P.F.A.S. by industry, and the likely physical locations associated with the industry or use.

Map: Industrial Sites Considered as Potential Sources of Contamination in Pennsylvania

Maybe we should be getting kids on grass, not off of it!