Rachel's Democracy & Health News #871  [Printer-friendly version]
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

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

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).