Artificial Turf / Astro Turf / Rubber Crumb Pitches
First invented in 1960s.
Started out as green plastic carpets used inside and outside. It was made as a substitute for grass in indoor spaces.
The product has developed and is made of various materials: plastic mats, polyethylene fibres, rubber granules (mainly made from old tyres). Synthetic turf is filled with a ground rubber material to cushion the users of the field. The sub-base is composed of a hard, chipped rock material that will drain water freely and then fine granular chips. These ‘carpets’ need to be replaced every 8-10 years. They also have to be maintained: damaged parts replaced and treated with chemicals to eliminate bacteria and mould.
Opposition to them was raised when safety and health problems began to emerge. Footballers raised concerns over injuries, concern has been raised about tyre waste releasing hazardous materials, nose and eye irritation from recycled rubber granules, high levels of lead found in some nylon fibre artificial turf. Extreme temperatures can cause dangerous burns and blisters. There are injuries more common on artificial turf use, including skin abrasions and abscesses.
Rubber contains heavy metal substances such as aluminium, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, sulphur and zinc, in addition to lead. Many of these are toxic. These toxic substances leach as the rubber degrades, contaminating the soil, landscape plants and associated aquatic systems.
As synthetic fields degrade the materials break down into minute pieces. Microfibres can be inhaled and can have damaging effects on the human body: Allergic or toxic dermatitis, inhaled components can irritate the respiratory system and can exacerbate asthma, greater incidence of chronic cough, chronic phlegm, chronic bronchitis, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. Potential for mutagenic or cancer causing effects – 3 chemicals used in in tyre production proved positive for mutagenicity.
The opposition to plastic turf includes the loss of natural habitats for a whole host of species including invertebrates like earthworms which in turn are also a food source for mammals and birds. Also impacts on soil. The contribute to carbon emissions during manufacture, transport and contribute to heat islands, cause flooding, pollute waterways, plastic breaks down and is washed in to rivers and the sea and are not biodegradable nor recyclable.
Artificial turf potentially linked to cancer deaths of six Phillies ball players – All artificial turf is made with toxic PFAS compounds and some types are still produced with recycled tyres that can contain heavy metals, benzene, volatile organic compounds and other carcinogens, and a growing number of US municipalities and states have banned or proposed banning them.
“There is a high number of Philadelphia Phillies diagnosed with this rare cancer and it looks weird, so that should be a red flag,” said Bennett. “We don’t know what those chemicals are doing to us – what happened to exercising caution when we’re talking about human health?”
Health concerns about Artificial Grass concentrate research on those that use them in the main for sports. However, concern has also started to be raised about young children being at risk from them. Rarely are the workers who manufacture, install or maintain them considered at risk.
As artificial turf has moved from crumb rubber then other organic products are used, but these are not free from health hazards either.
Workers need to be vigilant about the hazardous substances they are being exposed to and ensure their employers are controlling the risks. The COSHH regulations provide a minimum legal requirement, Trade union safety reps should try to improve on these regulations.
Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002 (COSHH)
The occupational use of nanomaterials is regulated under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH). COSHH is the law that requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health and includes nanomaterials. You can prevent or reduce workers' exposure to hazardous substances by:
finding out what the health hazards are;
deciding how to prevent harm to health (risk assessment);
providing control measures to reduce harm to health;
making sure they are used;
keeping all control measures in good working order;
providing information, instruction and training for employees and others;
providing monitoring and health surveillance in appropriate cases;
planning for emergencies.
Most businesses use substances, or products that are mixtures of substances. Some processes create substances. These could cause harm to employees, contractors and other people.
Sometimes substances are easily recognised as harmful. As a new technology, the risks of exposure associated with nanomaterials are not currently fully understood. Whilst knowledge gaps exist, HSE recommends a precautionary approach to risk management with control strategies aiming to reduce exposure as much as possible.
Further information can be found on HSE's COSHH website
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