The following is an editorial by Newton, Mass. Alderman Ted Hess-Mahan, which appeared in an online publication of The Boston Globe (January 10, 2009). It is available at .

Turf fields still a potential hazard
By Ted Hess-Mahan

Although synthetic in-filled turf has become a popular alternative to natural turf for communities desiring low-maintenance athletic fields that can endure intensive use, synthetic fields are increasingly regarded as potential environmental and health hazards, because of the materials they contain and the high temperatures they generate.

Various governmental agencies have found elevated lead levels in older synthetic fields, causing some communities to close fields or impose moratoriums on installing new ones. While newer turf products generally contain less lead, the crumb rubber “in-fill” made from recycled tires contains not only lead, but also known carcinogens, and phthalates, which can cause birth defects and affect the development of the male reproductive system. Synthetic fields also generate air temperatures exceeding 140 degrees on the playing field, may provide a medium for fungi, mold and bacteria, and have been blamed for transmitting MRSA, a treatment-resistant infection.

Moreover, every synthetic field will eventually require replacement in 10 to 15 years. Each full-sized field may contain well over a hundred tons of crumb rubber, synthetic turf, urethane coating, and other materials that cannot be recycled. Some of these materials are considered “special” or “hazardous” waste, which requires special handling. The cost of disposing of these materials may be in the six figure range per field, a fact which is frequently overlooked in the cost analysis.

It must be acknowledged that, although studies and research into the potential hazards associated with synthetic fields are ongoing, thus far, no definitive conclusions can be drawn. While a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report found no harmful lead levels in some of the newer types of synthetic grass, it also recognized the potential for lead exposure from older, worn synthetic fields exposed to weather and sunlight, and called for “voluntary” industry standards to preclude the use of lead in future products. Conversely, although the crumb rubber in-fill also contains lead, as well as carcinogens and other harmful substances, there is no study conclusively proving actual harm or injury from exposure to these materials in synthetic fields—at least, not yet.