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The Children’s Environmental Health Center Strongly Discourages The Installation Of Turf

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photo by Boyd Loving

September 15, 2023 

To Mayor Vagianos, Deputy Mayor Perron, and the Ridgewood Village Council:

The Children’s Environmental Health Center of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai strongly  discourages the installation of artificial turf playing surfaces and fields due to the uncertainties surrounding  the safety of these products and the potential for dangerous heat and chemical exposures.

As pediatricians, epidemiologists, and laboratory scientists, recipients of numerous research grants from  the National Institute of Health, and host to one of 10 nationally funded Pediatric Environmental Health  Specialty Units, we receive frequent inquiries from communities regarding the wide-scale use of artificial  turf surfaces on school grounds and in park properties. This led us to conduct a review of the risks and  benefits of artificial playing surfaces, during which we found significant gaps in the evidence supporting  the safety of artificial turf products. Our findings are summarized below and in our online resources  accessible at https://sinaiexposomics.org/artificial-turf/ and https://www.healthyplayingsurfaces.org/ and  via webinar on the Environmental Health Impacts of Synthetic Turf and Safer Alternatives.1

Studies to assess the safety of artificial turf are ongoing and inconclusive. The preponderance of existing  data on artificial turf pertains to recycled tire infill, or “crumb rubber”, which contains known carcinogens  and neurotoxins. Concerns about the safety of recycled rubber playing surfaces have been raised by the  federal government, based on a lack of comprehensive studies. In 2016, the United States Environmental  Protection Agency (USEPA) announced the launch of an investigation into the safety of crumb rubber in  partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Consumer Product Safety  Commission, stating “existing studies do not comprehensively evaluate the concerns about health risks  from exposure to tire crumb”.In July 2019, USEPA published a portion of their findings from these studies,  which confirmed the presence of chemicals linked to cancer, nervous system toxicity, and impaired  reproductive development such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, lead, and phthalates.3 The  authors emphasize that the reported findings do not constitute a risk assessment and cannot be  interpreted as evidence of safety.

Questions remain about the safety of alternatives to crumb rubber. Extremely few studies have examined  the composition and safety of alternative infills including those purported to be “natural”. A 2016 USEPA  report found research supporting the safety of alternative infills such as EPDM, TPE, and plant-based infills  “lacking or limited”. Recent studies including one conducted by Mount Sinai and the Toxic Use Reduction

https://www.healthandenvironment.org/webinars/96595

http://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-

02/documents/us_federal_research_action_plan_tirecrumb_final_0.pdf

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2019-

08/documents/synthetic_turf_field_recycled_tire_crumb_rubber_research_under_the_federal_research_action_p lan_final_report_part_1_volume_1.pdf

https://www.epa.gov/chemical-research/december-2016-status-report-federal-research-action-plan-recycled tire-crumb

Children’s Environmental Health Center  

Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health  

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

One Gustave L. Levy Place, Box 1217

New York, NY 10029-6574

Institute (TURI) found the presence of known carcinogens and neurotoxins including polycyclic aromatic  hydrocarbons (PAHs), lead, zinc, and black carbon in almost all alternative infill materials examined.5,6

Adequate safety assessment requires biomonitoring to determine chemical exposures under realistic play  conditions. Importantly, no studies have addressed children’s exposure to chemicals from artificial turf  surfaces via oral and dermal routes, the two most likely ways that turf chemicals enter the body during play. These studies are underway at USEPA; until findings are available and conclusively demonstrate the safety  of artificial surfaces, we recommend a moratorium on the use of these materials where children play.

Undisclosed chemicals of concern are present in plastic grass blades and turf pads and matting. A recent  study identified per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS, aka “Teflon chemicals”), a class of more than  5000 chemicals linked to numerous health problems including cancer, nervous system toxicity, immune  dysfunction, thyroid, and cardiovascular disease in the plastic grass blades and backing used on artificial turf  fields and in adjacent bodies of water.7,8,9,10 PFAS are considered “forever chemicals” because they persist  in the body and the environment and are widespread drinking water contaminants. These findings raise  concerns about PFAS groundwater and environmental contamination from turf field run off and emphasize  the need for further examination of exposures that may occur from turf components other than infill.

New Jersey has some of the most widespread PFAS contamination in the US, with an estimated more than  500,000 residents drinking contaminated tap water.11 Recent actions by the USEPA highlight increasing  recognition that there is no safe level of PFAS exposure. On March 14, 2023, USEPA proposed National  Primary Drinking Water Regulations for six PFAS, dramatically lowering the recommended levels of PFOA  and PFOS and citing scientific evidence of health impacts at drinking water levels close to zero.12 These  guidelines also include advisories for newer PFAS chemicals PFNA, GenX, PFBS, and PFHxS. In addition to  drinking water regulations, steps have been taken to designate PFAS hazardous substances and restrict their

5Massey et al. New Solut. 2020 May;30(1):10-26. doi: 10.1177/1048291120906206.

6Armada et al. Sci Total Environ. 2022 Mar 15;812:152542.

https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/PFAS-health-effects.html

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/10/09/toxic-chemicals-found-blades-artificial turf/1mlVxXjzCAqRahwgXtfy6K/story.html

https://sinaiexposomics.org/pfas-chemicals-and-your-health/

10https://www.turi.org/TURI_Publications/TURI_Chemical_Fact_Sheets/PFAS_in_Artificial_Turf_Carpet 11 https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/environment/2022/01/25/nj-drinking-water-contaminated chemicals-pfas-pfoa-pfos/9209219002/

12 https://www.epa.gov/sdwa/and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas

Children’s Environmental Health Center  

Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health  

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

One Gustave L. Levy Place, Box 1217

New York, NY 10029-6574

use in certain products both at the federal and state level.13,14,15,16,17,18 To allow the installation of PFAS containing surfaces would be extremely short-sighted as further restrictions and regulations on these  chemicals are likely to come.  

Risk of heat injury is elevated on artificial turf. On hot summer days, temperatures of over 160 degrees  Fahrenheit have been recorded on recycled rubber play surfaces.19 All artificial turf surfaces examined have  been shown to have higher surface temperature and air temperature at head height compared with natural  grass, regardless of infill type. 20 Vigorous play in these conditions conveys a very real risk of burns,  dehydration, heat stress, or heat stroke. Children are less able to regulate their body temperature than  adults, making them particularly susceptible to conditions of extreme heat.21,22

High temperatures and risk of heat illness lead to a loss of field usage even on hot days, which have become  increasingly common due to climate change. Like asphalt, artificial turf fields contribute to the “heat island  effect”, in which communities close to the fields become hotter than surrounding areas.23 Artificial turf  contributesto the climate crisis throughout its lifecycle, requiring fossil fuels during production and emitting  greenhouse gases during use and disposal.24

Children are uniquely vulnerable to harmful exposures from artificial turf surfaces because of their unique  physiology and behaviors, rapidly developing organ systems, and immature detoxification mechanisms.25 Children may be exposed to artificial turf chemicals through ingestion, inhalation, skin absorption, and open  wounds or broken skin. Children and young athletes breathe faster than adults, putting them at greater risk  for inhalation of chemicals that off-gas from turf fields. Small children put their hands and other objects in  their mouths, increasing the risk of exposure via ingestion. In addition, youth have a higher surface area to  body mass ratio, produce more body heat per unit mass, and sweat less than adults, all factors that increase  susceptibility to heat injuries that have been observed on artificial turf fields.14 Vulnerability to turf

13 https://www.epa.gov/superfund/proposed-designation-perfluorooctanoic-acid-pfoa-and perfluorooctanesulfonic-acid-pfos

14 https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-proposes-stop-authorized-use-certain-pfas-pesticide-products 15 https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/124367.html

16 https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/central-ny/ny-state-of-politics/2023/01/03/new-york-moves-to-ban-pfas chemicals-from-clothes

17 https://portal.ct.gov/Office-of-the-Governor/News/Press-Releases/2021/07-2021/Governor-Lamont-Signs Legislation-Banning-Use-Of-PFAS

18 https://cleanwater.org/releases/groups-praise-new-bill-banning-toxic-pfas

massachusetts#:~:text=Bans%20PFAS%20in%20almost%20all,2030

19 Devitt, D.A., M.H. Young, M. Baghzouz, and B.M. Bird. 2007. Journal of Turfgrass and Sports Surface Science. 83:68-82

20 https://plantscience.psu.edu/research/centers/ssrc/sportsturf-scoop/temperature

21 https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Children-and-Disasters/Pages/Extreme Temperatures-Heat-and-Cold.aspx

22 Falk B, Dotan R. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Apr;33(2):420-7. doi: 10.1139/H07-185. 23 Luz Claudio. Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol 116. No 3. March 2008.

24 https://www.nrpa.org/parks-recreation-magazine/2019/may/synthetic-sports-fields-and-the-heat-island-effect/ 25 Bearer, CF. Neurotoxicology 21:925-934, 2000.

Children’s Environmental Health Center  

Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health  

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

One Gustave L. Levy Place, Box 1217

New York, NY 10029-6574

chemicals persists through the teen years as the reproductive and nervous systems continue to develop  beyond the first two decades of life. Lastly, children have more future years of life over which chronic  diseases linked to the chemicals in turf develop.

Chemical hazards escape from artificial turf surfaces to the environmentA number of the chemical  components of artificial turf surfaces are soluble in water. When rain and snow fall on synthetic fields, these  materials can leach from the surface to contaminate ground water and soil.26 Recent studies find PFAS in  wetlands adjacent to artificial turf suggesting that these chemicals may migrate from field components to  contaminate the environment.Runoff from turf fields also has the potential to release microplastics into  the environment. Microplastic contamination is found in drinking water and wildlife throughout the globe  and in human blood, lungs, and placenta.27,28,29

Turf materials are transported homeOver time, play surfaces break down into smaller pieces and fine  particles that may be picked up on children’s shoes, clothing, and skin. Infill and grass blades accumulate in  shoes and stick to bodies of players, bringing these materials into cars and homes. Thus, exposure can  continue for many hours beyond the time that a child spends in the play area.

Daily outdoor play and physical activity are essential components of a healthy childhood. Safe play areas  are an essential component of any school environment. While it is important to maximize safe play time,  we caution against the use of materials which carry risks of chemical and heat exposure and have not been  comprehensively tested for safety.

For the reasons outlined above, the Children’s Environmental Health Center recommends natural grass  fields and playing surfaces as the safest option for areas where children play. For case studies that include  data on cost, labor, and play time on organically managed natural grass athletic fields see  https://www.turi.org/TURI_Publications/Case_Studies/Organic_Grass_Playing_Fields.

I would be happy to answer any questions that you might have.

Kind Regards,

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Sarah Evans, PhD, MPH

26 Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (2010) Artificial Turf Study: Leachate and  Stormwater Characteristics. http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/artificialturf/dep_artificial_turf_report.pdf 27Amato-Lourenço et al. Journal of Hazardous Materials. Vol. 416, 15 August 2021, 126124. doi:  10.1016/j.jhazmat.2021.126124

28 Ragusa et al. Environ Int. 2021 Jan;146:106274. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2020.106274. 29 Leslie et al. Environment International. Vol. 163, May 2022, 107199. 10.1016/j.envint.2022.107199

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