The fibers are typically made of nylon, polypropylene or polyethylene and are connected to a support material. The base material, also called filler, consists of one or more granular materials that are worked between the fibers during the installation process. The first form of synthetic grass known as “artificial grass” was invented by James M. Wright of The Chemstrand Company, a subsidiary of Monsanto Industries in the late 1950s.
On July 25, 1967, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued a patent for artificial grass and synthetic grass was officially “born”. Soccer coach Amy Griffin was in a Seattle hospital visiting a young goalkeeper who was undergoing chemotherapy when a nurse said something that made the hair on Griffin's neck stand up. That day, the nurse looked at the woman Griffin was sitting with and said, “Don't tell me they're doormen.”. You're the fourth goalkeeper I have this week.
Later, the young woman with the chemotherapy needle in her arm would say, “I have a feeling it has something to do with those blackheads. Artificial grass fields are now everywhere in the United States, from high schools to multi-million dollar sports complexes. As any parent or player who has participated in them can attest, the tiny black rubber crumbs that the courts are made of (pieces of old tires) are scattered everywhere. In the players' uniforms, in the hair, in the heels.
But for goalies, whose bodies are in constant contact with the grass, it can be much worse. In training and games, they do hundreds of dives, and each fall sends a black cloud of tire balls into the air. The granules get into their cuts and scrapes and into their mouths. Griffin wondered if those crumbs, which are known to contain carcinogens and chemicals, were making players sick.
Since then, Griffin has compiled a list of 38 American soccer players, 34 of them goalkeepers, who have been diagnosed with cancer. At least a dozen played in Washington, but the geographical distribution is national. Blood cancers, such as lymphoma and leukemia. No research has linked cancer to artificial grass.
Griffin collected names through personal experiences with sick players, and acknowledges that his list is not a scientific data set. But just ask yourself if artificial grass made of granulated rubber, a product that has been deployed in tens of thousands of parks, playgrounds, schools and stadiums in the United States,. Others across the country are raising similar questions, arguing that the now ubiquitous material, made from synthetic fibers and scrap tires, which may contain benzene, carbon black and lead, among other substances, has not been properly analyzed. Few studies have measured the risk of ingesting granulated rubber by mouth, for example.
NBC's own comprehensive research, which included a review of relevant studies and interviews with scientists and industry professionals, could not find any agreement on whether shredded grass had adverse effects on young athletes or even if the product had been sufficiently tested. The Synthetic Grass Council, an industry group, states that the evidence collected so far by scientists and state and federal agencies demonstrates that artificial grass is safe. Do you or your children play on synthetic fields? Share your story Environmental advocates want the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to take a closer look. While both the CPSC and the EPA conducted studies more than five years ago, both agencies recently reversed their assurances that the material was safe, calling their studies “limited.”.
But while the EPA told NBC News in a statement that “more testing is needed,” the agency also said it considered artificial grass a “state and local decision” and that it would not commission further investigations. The EPA rejected multiple requests from NBC News for an interview and declined to expand on its claim that “more testing is needed.”. From “Chemgrass” to granulated rubber In the early 2000s, a better form of artificial grass had emerged. The new grass, called styrene-butadiene rubber or “granulated rubber”, contained small black crumbs made from sprayed car tires, which were spilled between fake grass blades.
The rubber padding gave the field more bounce, cushioned the impact for athletes, and helped prevent serious injuries, such as concussions. Since then, the material has become increasingly popular. Municipalities across the country have launched multi-million dollar bonds to pay for new fields. Local leaders, some facility managers and businesses say that lawn maintenance costs less than natural grass and can withstand intensive use all year round.
Today, according to figures from the Synthetic Grass Council, more than 11,000 synthetic grass sports fields are used in the U.S. UU. Most of them are made of granulated rubber. Granulated rubber filler is also used in playgrounds across the country.
Granulated rubber is an “environmental success story,” said Dan Zielinski, spokesman for the Rubber Manufacturers Association. Not only have grass fields diverted millions of tires from landfills, Zielinski said, but they don't require fertilizers or pesticides, and can save municipalities hundreds of thousands of gallons of water each year. When she and her team asked what was on the grass, “old tires” was the best answer she received. But the smell that hangs over crumbled rubber fields (the scent of tires burning in the sun) became as familiar to Swarthout as his endless goalkeeper exercises.
She even got used to “grass bugs”, as she and her teammates called them. During high school, he played on several teams at once, with two-hour practices five days a week and games at least twice a week. Every day, I tried to clean the black rubber balls, the “grass bugs”, from the abrasions and burns she suffered as a goalkeeper on the grass. Every day, much to his mother's chagrin, he would shake them off their clothes and cleats to the laundry room floor.
He took them out of his hair and spit them out of his mouth. Jordan's mother, Suzie Swarthout, said her daughter probably swallowed hundreds of tire crumbs a year. However, neither Jordan nor Suzie cared much about it. It was one night last May, months after doctors declared that her daughter was in remission, that Suzie Swarthout saw the story of Amy Griffin on a local news program.
Griffin said that since she began collecting names of goalkeepers with cancer and other diseases, she has had people like the Swarthouts contact her, and her list has grown. Griffin and the Swarthouts said they know that it's almost impossible to find out the source of a disease like cancer, and that young people are exposed to hundreds of carcinogens. But, said Jordan Swarthout, “if we have him available to investigate this, why shouldn't we? Why can't we? One of the problems in investigating the potential health risks of granulated rubber fields is the wide variety of materials used in the product. Tens of thousands of different tires from different brands can be used in a field.
According to the EPA, mercury, lead, benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and arsenic, among other chemicals, heavy metals and carcinogens, have been found in tires. Darren Gill, vice president of marketing for FieldTurf, a major turf company, said those ingredients may concern consumers, but the manufacturing process ensures that his product is safe. Industry leaders say that while encouraging additional research, studies have shown that substances found in granulated rubber are not at levels high enough to pose a risk to children or athletes. Existing research has attempted to measure the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals through inhalation of gases and particles, as well as through contact with skin.
Studies have found that granulated rubber fields emit gases that can be inhaled. Grass fields can get very hot (10 to 15 degrees higher than room temperature), increasing the chances that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and chemicals can “expel gases” or leak into the air. A study conducted by the state of Connecticut measured the concentrations of VOCs and chemicals in the air above the fields. In addition to VOCs, such as benzene and methylene chloride, researchers identified several polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
The report concluded that “the use of artificial grass fields outdoors and indoors is not associated with high health risks, but that more research is needed to better understand exposure to chemicals in outdoor fields during hot weekends and in indoor facilities, which showed higher levels of chemicals in the air. Other studies have looked at whether runoff from shredded rubber turf is harmful to aquatic life or if the injury rate on grass is lower than on natural grass. Few studies have looked at the unique problems of goalies: whether it is dangerous to ingest particles through the mouth or to absorb them into the body through cuts and scratches. While many studies conclude that the fields studied do not present acute health risks, they often add the warning that more research needs to be done.
Joel Forman, associate professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital, in all these studies, data gaps make it difficult to draw firm conclusions. Forman said it is known that some of the compounds found in tires, “even at lower chronic exposures,” may be associated with subtle neurodevelopmental problems in children. However, federal agencies are unlikely to conduct further investigations.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the federal agency responsible for regulating consumer products, analyzed grass samples. While tests detected lead in synthetic grass leaves, the agency announced that it was safe to play on grass. That same year, an official from an EPA regional office wrote to three agency offices in D, C. However, there is not enough data available to quantify the toxicological risks associated with exposure to tire crumbs.
Soon after, the EPA analyzed samples from two artificial grass fields and a playground. The concentrations of VOCs and other chemicals found by the researchers presented a “low level of concern,” the agency said, but stated that due to the “very limited nature” of the study and the diversity of the crumb material, “it was not possible to reach more exhaustive conclusions without considering data additional. While the industry cites both studies as evidence that rubber crumbs are safe, in response to complaints filed by PEER, both the CPSC and the EPA stated last year that their studies were limited in scope. In its press release, the CPSC wrote: “The exposure assessment did not include chemicals or other toxic metals, other than lead.
Since its initial tests, according to the CPSC, the agency has worked with the industry to develop voluntary standards for lead content. The EPA rejected repeated requests for an interview from NBC News. In a statement, he said the agency “does not believe that the field monitoring data collected provides evidence of an elevated health risk as a result of the use of recycled tire crumbs on playgrounds or on synthetic grass athletic fields.”. The agency has no plans to conduct further studies, but is currently working on a “summary” of available research.
Others across the country say their questions about granulated rubber grass remain unanswered. In Maryland, a group called the Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition has been organizing against a bill that would allocate state funding to build artificial grass fields. The group has also been trying to promote legislation requiring warning signs to be placed around artificial grass fields. For at least four years, citizens and advocacy groups concerned about granulated rubber grass have been fighting against the installation of artificial fields in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
Earlier this year, a judge dismissed a lawsuit against the city alleging that the city's environmental impact report violated California law by failing to disclose the risks associated with grass. The case is currently being appealed. Two lawn-related proposals are on the ballot for the city's upcoming elections. One would prohibit the city from installing the fields in Golden Gate Park, and the other would give the city's Parks and Recreation department more freedom to install similar projects.
People concerned about grass suggest using an alternative filler for artificial fields, such as coconut fiber and cork, or prohibiting young children or other young children from using fields and play areas with granulated rubber. An environmental group called the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) led litigation against several artificial grass companies in California for violations of Proposition 65, a state law that prohibits companies from knowingly exposing consumers to specific chemicals and heavy metals, such as lead. without clear warning. In a series of agreements, the companies agreed to reduce the amount of lead in their products sold in California and agreed to replace the fields under certain conditions.
Caroline Cox, research director at CEH, said that while studies have not definitively established that shredded rubber grass is harmful, the surface contains chemicals known to be hazardous. Follow NBC News investigations on Twitter and Facebook. When Amy Griffin started using grass (her team practices it all year round), she thought it was a “win-win”. Now, his team collects granulated rubber paper cups from each field where they play and hands them to them so that they can send the granules to a laboratory for analysis.
Rappleye is a reporter for the NBC News Investigation Unit, with a focus on criminal justice, social issues and the environment. To test how resistant turf is to abrasion, ASTM recommends testing the fabric by running it under an abrasive head made of spring steel, while another ASTM test measures how abrasive the turf will be for players. The Synthetic Grass Council has cited Re-Match as proof that recycling grass is a viable option for the industry, and the Andersen method has been validated by an international program to verify the new technology. County Fire Chief John Shalowitz says the landlord was planning to use the lawn on his own property when a power line on adjacent land caused a fire that spread across the grass.
Artificial grass was also introduced in the applications for which it was originally conceived, and artificial grass was installed in many children's playgrounds in the city center. ASTM also has tests that measure the shock absorption of the turf system, and there are also tests to see how well the turf holds up over the course of a game or even during an extended tournament. The resulting combination combines the feel, look and comfort of biological grass with the resilience and tear and gap resistance of artificial grass. Today, according to figures from the Synthetic Grass Council, more than 11,000 synthetic grass sports fields are used in the U.
After the successful Astrodome installation, the artificial grass market expanded with the entry of other manufacturers, including the company 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing) with its version known as Tartan Turf. In the mid-1990s, the third generation of artificial grass came to the light of lime by including polyethylene yarn fibers, along with many revolutionary improvements to the overall turf system. Because of these factors, artificial grass will likely continue to be a turf surface option for communities, schools and professional sports teams. Artificial turf for field hockey differs from artificial grass for other sports in that it does not try to reproduce the feel of grass, since it is made of shorter fibers.