Why is the Chicago Park District installing artificial turf fields?

Chicago Park District athletic fields are heavily utilized and artificial turf is a good sustainable solution. Artificial turf fields are a good replacement for natural grass fields because they extend the playing season and lower maintenance costs. Because the fields are in high demand and heavily utilized, shutting a field for a year to restore a natural turf field would displace users. Industry recommended average is 50 games (about 4 games per week) a season. The Chicago Park District may see up to 50 games a week on these athletic fields. Strategic placement of artificial turf fields allows for additional resources to maintain and reseed or sod the existing fields.

The benefits of artificial turf fields include continuous use of the fields in all weather and seasons and decreased maintenance costs. Artificial turf fields provide the ability to use recycled materials such as stone underneath the field and crumb rubber infill that would otherwise be disposed of in a land fill. 


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Are artificial turf fields safe for users?

Yes, for both adults and children. Numerous peer reviewed, in-depth studies, have been completed on the artificial turf surface materials, backing, yarns and infill materials used for most professionally installed artificial grass solutions worldwide. Results, to date, do not conclusively prove that synthetic grass and any of the selection of infill materials (including crumbed recycled tire rubbers - SBR or ambient crumb rubber) adversely affect the players on sport field surfaces; professional or school fields, or the environment. The most recent study was a comprehensive two-year evaluation of the health and environmental impacts associated with artificial turf fields containing crumb rubber infill. 


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Are artificial turf fields bad for the environment?

No. The infill material of artificial turf fields may be constructed with recycled materials using up to 10 tons of ground-up used tires, rubber pebbles and/or granules.  Crumb used tire rubber has been used in fields since 1997.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) states that scrap tires are not a hazardous waste and recommends using crumb material.  This is a way to reuse old tires that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Artificial turf fields may use recycled stone aggregate under the fields. And the artificial turf fields themselves are recyclable at the end of their life. Air quality is improved because of the reduction in maintenance hours and power equipment needed to maintain a grass field.  Natural turf does little to combat airborne pollution because it is so close to the ground, unlike trees which do filter air pollution. Artificial turf is generally placed in larger parks, thereby not negatively impacting bird or animal habitat


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Do artificial turf fields impact water?

No. The environmental impacts of an artificial turf fields are negligible.  Artificial turf fields substantially reduce water usage traditionally utilized to maintain natural turf fields.  The artificial turf fields have an extensive stormwater system beneath the surface that filters rainwater into the ground and storm sewer system. Additionally, artificial turf fields do not adversely impact habitat in the surrounding park area. 


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I heard that artificial turf fields contain lead that may be harmful. Is this true?

No.  An evaluation done by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, found that while low levels of lead were associated with artificial turf fields, “young children are not at risk from [the] exposure.” Furthermore, a test result from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services confirmed that lead chromate levels are well below the level that can cause harm to children and athletes using the surface. In fact, the results showed an average 7 year old child would have to consume 100 lbs of synthetic turf to be at risk of absorbing enough lead to equal the minimum threshold of elevated blood lead.


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Are there other toxic substances in artificial turf that I should be concerned about?

No.  In November 2009, the U.S. EPA released a report entitled “A Scoping-Level Field Monitoring Study of Synthetic Turf Fields and Playgrounds.” The report concluded “concentrations of Particulate Matter (PM) and metals (including lead) measured in air above the turf fields were similar to background concentrations.

  • All PM air concentrations were well below the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for PM (150 micrograms per cubic meter).
  • All air concentrations for lead were well below the NAAQS for lead (150 nanograms per cubic meter.)
  • All volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were measured at extremely low concentrations which is typical of ambient air concentrations.

The average extractable metal concentrations from the infill, turf blade, tire crumb infill, and tire crumb material were low. Although there are no standards for lead in recycled tire materials or synthetic turf, average concentrations were well below the U.S. EPA standard for lead in soil (400 parts per million.)

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What about the heat? Does an artificial turf field get hotter in the summer in comparison to a grass field?

Yes. Several studies have looked at the temperature of artificial turf fields on warm summer days as well as the temperature around the field. Most studies find elevated temperatures on the artificial turf surface. The Chicago Park District recommends people stay hydrated and take breaks when engaged in exercise or other activity during the summer, particularly on hot days. 


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Can players get a bacterial infection from playing on artificial turf fields?

No. In the fall of 2003, there was an outbreak of Staphylococcus Aureus (Staph) bacterial infections among St. Louis Rams players. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study which showed that the skin infections were likely spread among players because of poor hygienic practices and not the artificial turf. More recently, in September 2006, researchers at Pennsylvania State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences conducted a study that found no trace of Staph bacteria in any of the 20 synthetic turf fields tested at various locations in Pennsylvania. These studies and other studies indicate that the artificial turf is a “symptom” not a cause of bacterial infections. Infections are due to poor hygiene practices in locker rooms and by athletic staff and players. A Pennsylvania State University study in 2006 looked at this issue and concluded “players are not getting the Staph from the (artificial turf) field.”


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Are players who use artificial turf fields more likely to get an abrasion or injure themselves?

Possibly. In the past, the concern of artificial turf was ankle and leg injuries. Current research on various health issues includes a recent National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) study comparing injury rates during the 2003-2004 academic years that showed the injury rate during practice was 4.4% on natural turf and 3.5% on artificial turf. A National Football League (NFL)panel found that certain serious knee and ankle injuries happen more often in games played on the most popular brand of artificial turf than on grass. While the report has yet to be published, news accounts indicate that the report examined the 2002 through 2008 NFL seasons, comparing games played on grass to those on FieldTurf. It found a higher rate of anterior cruciate ligament injuries on FieldTurf games. More research is needed on issues such as whether players are wearing the right types of shoes on artificial turf.

In October 2010, a study conducted by the state environmental officials for the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery found that college soccer players suffer more skin abrasions when they play on artificial turf than with natural grass. It recommends working to prevent those abrasions, in part through protective clothing and equipment. 


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Did the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issue a warning about artificial turf?

Yes.  In June 2008, the CDC issued a low-level public health advisory, due to the extensive publicity surrounding artificial turf fields. The Consumer Product Safety Commission investigated reports of lead contamination from artificial turf and, in July 2008, concluded that “young children are not at risk from exposure to lead in these fields.” Neither agency has issued additional information on this topic since the advisory or report.


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What did the recent risk assessment in Connecticut find?

Released in July 2010, the study found no elevated health risks from outdoor artificial turf sports fields made with crushed rubber. The study was commissioned by the University of Connecticut Health Center, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Environmental Protection. The $245,000 study tested for 200 chemicals at four outdoor fields and one indoor field. It says chemical levels at outdoor fields were comparable to levels commonly found in outdoor air, while levels at the indoor field were higher but not harmful. Concerns have been raised across the country about artificial turf’s safety because of industrial chemicals in crushed rubber tires. 


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What about the California study?

Released in February 2010, the study made positive conclusions about artificial turf, except on heat.The University of California, Berkley released a report entitled “Review of the Impacts of Crumb Rubber in Artificial Turf Applications.”  The report found that artificial turf provides equal or better “playability” than natural turf and provides between 2,000 and 3,000 hours of playing time annually compared to natural turf fields which provide between 300 and 816 hours of playing time annually. The report also found artificial turf fields can become hot and uncomfortable to play on in warmer months. And the report found that while artificial turf contains elements that could be toxic to humans, ordinary use does not expose players to levels considered dangerous.


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Do artificial turf fields contribute to the urban heat island affect?

No. Artificial turf does not contribute to the urban heat island effect (UHI). UHI is a phenomenon where the overall temperature of the city in the summertime heats up during the daytime. The structures in the city, in particular dark colored structures, retain that heat during the daytime and radiate it out at night, never allowing the city to cool off in the nighttime. While it is true that artificial turf will be much warmer on a summer day than the surrounding surfaces, artificial turf does not hold this heat for a significant period of time and therefore does not contribute to UHI.


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I recently saw an artificial turf field being installed by the Park District. There was a warning label on the silica product being applied to the field that said it could cause cancer. Should I be concerned?

No. Silica is sand. Silica dust warning labels are attached to the bags of sand being delivered to the field.  These types of labels are on any type of sand one buys – even if it’s play sand from a big box retailer. Respiratory health issues associated with crystalline silica dust are primarily from daily occupational exposure over many years from activities such as sand blasting or mining where the sand particles are fractured into tiny dust particles (less than 10 microns) that are invisible to the naked eye.  The infill sand that is used has been screened and washed to eliminated fine particles and achieve a uniform grain size of between 900 and 400 microns, which does not present an inhalation hazard.


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I live next door to an artificial turf field. Should I be worried about chemicals coming from the field and harming me?

No. In 2009, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Department of Health conducted a study to assess potential public health impact from air release of chemicals and the potential impact on ground water from leaching of chemicals from crumb rubber used in artificial turf fields.  The findings conclude that the crumb rubber material used in synthetic turf fields poses no significant environmental threat to air quality or water quality and poses no significant health concerns.  A similar study by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment also concluded that is not a serious health risk to animals and plants living in the vicinity of artificial turf fields with crumb rubber infill.


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