Rachel's Democracy & Health News #871, September 7, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: New York City is installing the latest "synthetic turf" in 79 city parks, often replacing natural soil and grass. Other cities and towns may be considering a similar move for playgrounds, ball fields, and parks. Unfortunately, tests of the new synthetic turf have revealed heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals at levels exceeding New York state standards. [Correction: Rachel's #871 published on Sept. 7, 2006, stated incorrectly that samples of Fieldturf had been analyzed; in fact, samples of a competing product, A-Turf, had been sampled. See text below.]]

By William Crain and Junfeng Zhang**

A new generation of synthetic turf is becoming popular in the U.S. Brands such as FieldTurf [and A-Turf] are springier than the old AstroTurf and feel more like real grass. They also promise low maintenance costs. New York City is so attracted to the new synthetic turf that it is installing it in 79 parks, often substituting it for natural soil and grass.(1)

However, the new artificial grass raises health concerns. In particular, the base of FieldTurf and similar brands [such as A-Turf] includes recycled rubber pellets that could contain harmful chemicals. What's more, we have observed that on many New York City fields, the rubber pellets are also present on the surface. When one of us (William Crain) was picking up some pellets by hand, a boy told him that after playing in the park, he finds the pellets in his shoes at home at night. Because the rubber pellets are much more accessible to children and athletes than we had supposed, we decided to analyze a sample for two possible sets of toxicants -- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and toxic metals.

We collected our first sample from a new FieldTurf surface in Manhattan's Riverside Park in May, 2006. [Note: This is an error. The brand of artificial turf sampled in Riverside Park was A-Turf, not FieldTurf.] To gain information on the reliability of our results, we gathered a second sample in June, 2006 from a different part of the park.

The PAHs were extracted in a Soxhlet apparatus with organic solvents. The metals were extracted by means of nitric acid with the aid of a high-efficiency microwave oven (Marsx Microwave). Both methods were used to estimate the maximum amounts of the chemicals contained in the bulk material (rubber pellets). The analyses were conducted at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute of Rutgers University.

The PAH results for our first sample are listed as Sample 1 in Table 1, below. As the table shows, six PAHs were above the concentration levels that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) considers sufficiently hazardous to public health to require their removal from contaminated soil sites (2). It is highly likely that all six PAHs are carcinogenic to humans.

The PAH results for Sample 2 are also listed in the table. Although the concentration levels in Samples 1 and 2 varied somewhat, the results for Sample 2 replicated the finding that the concentration levels of the six PAHs are above the DEC's tolerable levels for soil.


Table 1. Concentrations of PAHs (ppm*)

.................... Sample 1 ......... Sample 2 ....... DEC .................... A-Turf ........... A-Turf ......... Contaminated .................... Rubber Pellets.... Rubber Pellets . Soil Limits

Benzo(a)anthracene.... 1.23 ............ 1.26 ........... 1.0 Chrysene ............. 1.32 ............ 7.55 ........... 1.0 Benzo(b)fluoranthene.. 3.39 ............ 2.19 ........... 1.0 Benzo(a)pyrene ....... 8.58 ............ 3.56 ........... 1.0 Benzo(k)fluoranthene.. 7.29 ............ 1.78 ........... 0.8 Dibenzo(a,h)anthracene 3.52 ............ 1.55 ........... 0.33

* ppm = parts per million


The analyses also revealed levels of zinc in both samples that exceed the DEC's tolerable levels. Lead and arsenic also were present, and many scientists believe that these metals should not be introduced into the environment at all.

We want to emphasize that the findings are preliminary. PAHs in rubber might not act the same way as in soil, and we do not yet have information on the ease with which the PAHs in these rubber particles might be absorbed by children or adults -- by ingestion, inhalation, or absorption through the skin. However, the findings are worrisome. Until more is known, it wouldn't be prudent to install the synthetic turf in any more parks.

We have informed the New York City Parks Department of our findings, but as far as we know, the Parks Department has not altered its plans to continue the installation of artificial turf in numerous parks.

** William Crain, Ph.D., is professor of psychology at The City College of New York and president of Citizens for a Green Riverside Park. Junfeng (Jim) Zhang, Ph.D. is professor and acting chair, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the School of Public Health, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Rutgers University.


(1) New Yorkers for Parks. A New Turf War: Synthetic Turf in New York City's Parks -- Special Report, Spring 2006. www.NY4P.org

(2) 6 NYCRR Part 375, Environmental Remediation Program, Draft Revised June 14, 2006, Department of Environmental Conservation, Table 375-6.8 (a) and (b).