Artificial turf is toxic. Don’t install it!

Posted 4/3/24

 Given all that we’ve been learning about microplastics in recent years, it makes zero sense for the Eldred Central School District to install an artificial turf field.

Artificial …

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Artificial turf is toxic. Don’t install it!


 Given all that we’ve been learning about microplastics in recent years, it makes zero sense for the Eldred Central School District to install an artificial turf field.

Artificial turf is a huge carpet of plastic blades of grass stitched to a plastic backing with granulated rubber spread on top. This rubber infill anchors the turf, supports the blades, and provides cushioning and traction for players.

According to the River Reporter’s coverage in the March 21-27 issue, the school district is debating between crumb rubber from recycled tires or “virgin” rubber. (Note: Most rubber today is a variation of plastic with elastic properties.) 

Artificial turf is subject to weathering, abrasion and deterioration. Bits of fake grass blades break off, and rubber granules come loose. Sports fans may have noticed black dust flying into the air during play. The tiny black granules also cling to skin and clothing.

Both the blades and the granulated rubber infill—even virgin infill—contain toxic chemicals. Exposure to these chemicals—carcinogens like butadiene and neurotoxins, including benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), lead and other heavy metals—is associated with cancer, learning disabilities, behavioral problems and lower IQ.

These chemicals wouldn’t be permitted in products for children. So why does it make sense to create a situation where our kids will be repeatedly exposed to them?

Exposure isn’t limited to the playing field. People using synthetic turf fields inevitably track rubber granules into the surrounding area, cars, homes and schools.

These tiny bits of rubber and synthetic glass blades are microplastics. Each particle carries its payload of toxic chemicals wherever it goes.

Those chemicals include PFAS, the huge family of “forever” chemicals. Even turf marketed as PFAS-free has PFAS in it, because each blade of faux grass goes through an extruder lubricated with PFAS to keep the plastic from sticking to the machinery.

Artificial turf fields also have a higher injury rate. Professional sports players and teams prefer natural grass, which is associated with fewer knee and ankle injuries. FIFA has banned artificial surfaces from being used at all World Cup venues.

Meanwhile, the National Football League Players Association has repeatedly called for the NFL to replace its turf fields with natural grass. The union has also raised concern about players being exposed to “forever” chemicals. Skidding or sliding across synthetic turf can cause painful “turf burns” through which toxic chemicals can directly enter the bloodstream.

So can germs. According to the EPA, artificial turf has been implicated in outbreaks of staph and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) among college athletic teams.

 Like paved parking lots, synthetic turf is significantly hotter than grass, putting kids at greater risk of heatstroke and acute burns. On sunny days, the air temperature a few feet above an artificial turf field in the Northeast can soar above 150 degrees Fahrenheit, making fields unplayable on warmer days.

Such intense heat also causes the chemicals in turf fields to release toxic volatile organic compounds, which players can take in when they breathe.

Kids aren’t the only ones at risk from artificial turf fields; the environment is, as well. A number of the toxic chemicals in rubber are soluble in water, meaning they can leach from the turf to contaminate groundwater and soil.

Manufacturers often pitch the fields as being easier and less expensive to maintain than natural grass. But artificial turf is far from maintenance-free. Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has a series of recommendations, which include grooming fields before and after each use, as well as frequently treating the turf with antimicrobials to remove bacterial growth.

Also, artificial turf fields don’t last forever. Even FieldTurf, the vendor the school district proposes to use, acknowledges that their product has a life expectancy of eight to 10 years.

 Artificial turf first appeared on the market in the late 1990s, when it was seen as an improvement over AstroTurf. At the time, the EPA deemed turf environmentally friendly, since it found a use for recycled tires. We have since learned better. 

Just because a product has been on the market for 25 years doesn’t mean it’s safe. The artificial turf industry is completely unregulated at the federal level. 

But this December, New York State’s Carpet Collection Program Law will go into effect, and it will apply to artificial turf. Among its provisions: As of December 31, 2026, “No carpet offered for sale shall contain or be treated with PFAS substances”—which immediately rules out artificial turf, since it cannot be made without PFAS. 

Perhaps this law has caused manufacturers to step up their efforts to sell their products to unwary schools.

Our kids and our environment deserve better. Parents of Eldred students, urge your school board to reverse their ill-informed decision. 

Rebekah Creshkoff is a volunteer with Beyond Plastics Sullivan County NY.

Eldred Central, School District, artificial, turf, microplastics


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