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NYC report cites heat, not crumb rubber, as major health concern of synthetic turf

Source: Athletic Turf News

Heat. That’s the major health concern of synthetic turf sports fields, concluded the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYDHMH) in a recently released 200-page report on the potential health and safety risks associated with synthetic turf fields containing crumb rubber.

Whether or how much the report, essentially a review of available studies, will cool the controversy focusing on synthetic turf sports fields is unknown.

Some of that controversy has focused on the presence of volatile organic compounds in the crumb rubber used in some synthetic turf fields, specifically the potential for these compounds to affect the health of young athletes. That issue has been the source of much debate, especially in some communities in New England and the Northeast, including New York City.

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) began installing synthetic turf fields in 1997. To date about 94 have been installed with 68 more fields planned or under construction. The NYC DPR asked the NYDHMH for help in assessing the safety of the fields in response to concerns about the presence of crumb rubber in many of the fields.

In response, the NYDHMH, using a grant by the New York Community Trust, hired TRC, an engineering, consulting and construction management company, Windsor, CT, to do “an intensive literature review” on health and safety issues related to synthetic turf. The resulting report speaks to topics as varied as the chemical composition of crumb rubber to Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).

In referring to the chemical composition of crumb rubber, the report uses the term chemical of potential concern (COPC). In its “intensive review of available literature” it did not find any reason for undue concern about the use of crumb rubber, although it advises field managers to establish protocols for selecting and purchasing synthetic turf and crumb rubber products

These include requirements for requirements for suppliers and manufacturers to provide available information on:

• chemical content of products

• potential COPC emissions from products over time,

• heat absorbency characteristics,

• injury factors and other relevant health and safety information, and

• continuous evaluation of new technologies, health and safety factors, and best practices for use and maintenance of synthetic turf fields.

In general, though, the report did not sound any alarm bells over the installation and use of synthetic turf, with or without crumb rubber infill.

“For the COPCs in the crumb rubber to be a health concern for users of the fields, users would have to be exposed to high enough concentrations to increase the risk for health effects,” said the report.

“To date, 11 human health risk assessments were identified that evaluated exposure to the constituents in crumb rubber,” he continued. “Although each risk assessment was conducted using distinct assumptions and evaluated different concentrations of COPCs in crumb rubber, all had a similar conclusion: exposure to COPCs from the crumb rubber may occur, however the degree of exposure is likely to be too small through ingestion, dermal or inhalation to increase the risk of any health effect.”

Instead it said that “the major health concern from these fields is related to heat.”

To address potential heat exposures related to synthetic turf fields with crumb rubber, it recommended that sports field managers:

• Educate the management staff, coaches and athletic staff, field users and parents on the potential for heat-related illness, and how to recognize and prevent heat-related symptoms and illness.

• Assess the feasibility of adding heat mitigation measures to new and existing synthetic turf fields, such as accessible shade areas and drinking water fountains.

• ‘Identify and implement the use of alternate infill material with lower heat absorption properties.

The tone of the report was favorable to synthetic turf (one of the report’s six chapters pointed out its oft-cited benefits), even as it identified “gaps” in many of the reports and studies it identified as contributing to its conclusions.

“A REVIEW OF THE POTENTIAL HEALTH AND SAFETY RISKS FROM SYNTHETIC TURF FIELDS CONTAINING CRUMB RUBBER INFILL,” New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, prepared by TRC, Windsor, CT. For the PDF of the Review, click here and scroll down the page

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