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Crumb Rubber Infill:
Toxic Doubts Brings Community Together For Common Good, Everyone Wins
As a Connecticut community begins to explore the use of synthetic grass surfaces for local high school sports fields, a well-known, widely used job material called crumb rubber infill seems to take center stage.
Crumb rubber infill is generally made from processed and reclaimed (recycled) tire rubber. Town meeting officials, presenting plans for upcoming projects, find themselves fielding questions such as: "Recycled tire rubber is a waste product, isn't it?" Whispers of mosquito infested tire heaps and smoldering piles of hazardous materials circulate the room; uncertainty is voiced as challenges: "Is it safe? Has it been tested?"
Considering what most of us assume to know about recycled tires, anyone can see why a layperson, unfamiliar with the job materials used to install a synthetic sport field system, might become concerned and call "FOUL BALL"; demanding proof of the recycled tire crumbs' safety and validation of its need of use.
If familiarity breeds contempt, lack of it feeds doubt. In the case of the use of recycled crumb rubber, these doubts may cost one East Coast state $200,000 as concerned citizens of Westport, CT demand a moratorium on the building of new fields and testing of existing local projects already in use; claiming not enough is known about the potential of risks, if any, from the recycled crumb rubber infill.
The use of synthetic turf materials has been a sports-driven, field centric market for over 40 years and until recently, an investment made only by the sports elite; a group well known to spend lavishly on the safety and performance of their primary asset, their players. It may be a stark way of putting it, yet sports, for profit, is exactly that and bottom line, if the value, safety and performance proposition wasn't there, neither would the demand for synthetic fields or the materials or expertise to build them.
Indoor and outdoor stadiums, covered in artificial surfaces abound, and safety testing and product improvements have been a priority for profit and non-profit organizations, alike. As the adoption of faux grass surfaces grows outside the traditional sports market, the exposure of synthetic grass products to new consumers provides an opportunity to talk about their value and uses to everyone; professional and layman, alike.
What we "laymen" probably don't know is that there are environmental agencies of several North American and European countries, along with international sports authorities, schools, universities and sports organizations playing watch-dog over this conversation, as well as, every professional in the field of sports. They've been doing this for years. We [laymen] are not "alone" in our desire to make wise and educated decisions for our communities, our teams, and our families.
Unfortunately, there are always a few mis-quoted "sound bites" and data points that tend to find their way into discussions and are interpreted as fact ....
Mis-information or, more likely, the mis-interpretation of information will always stir things up; especially when you start talking about using relatively unknown and "un-natural" sounding products such as poly-olefin fibers with poly-urethane coated backings and recycled tire rubber infill, up close and personal with our children, family members and pets. As to the expense of additional studies, it's always important to take a critical look at any system, every few years. Maybe these studies can help develop even better products for the future.
Synthetic turf represents approximately 0.02% of all the lawn and natural grass surfaces installed and maintained annually in the US, yet there are hundreds of millions of square feet of these products installed all over the planet in every conceivable set of environmental conditions. Because of their "nature" - artificial surfaces usually abound where grass could not or would not grow effectively.
Reality is NFL Teams and amateur sports associations, care just as much about their players as you and I do about our families and communities. Before the first field was ever laid in the early 1960s, safety has driven the development of synthetic turf products and systems. Research and test studies, conducted by users, municipalities, environmental protection agencies, water districts, national and international sports associations that set safety standards have accumulated data spanning years; it all consistently shows that artificial grass and crumb rubber infill are safe and beneficial products.
Westport officials reviewed public concerns and are displaying their confidence in the results of existing, published studies and reports by moving forward to break ground on their much needed sports field projects. State officials have also committed to funding the two year testing program, so those community members who want to can monitor their concerns with tangible, verifiable and authoritative results, from their own backyard. Here, everyone wins and no one has to compromise.
What Is Infill and Why Is It Needed?
Let's start with the first generation of artificial turf that was installed, as a field, in the early 1960s, just a few years before the well-known AstroDome installation. It was a single, integrated surface, built of layers of synthetic materials and durable, artificial blades. Now, in their third generation, artificial turf surfaces resemble shag-like carpets, lushly tufted with soft, natural looking fibers and an additional component called infill.
Infill is spread across the TOP of the grass blades so that the materials will fill the voids in between the synthetic fibers and cover the backing, helping protect it and the base of the blade fibers from ultra-violet damage. Infill also provides weight, to hold the surface materials in place and additional structure to the surfaces, increasing vertical and horizontal strength, stability and resiliency for a safe, playable surface.
Four Types of Infill Used With Artificial Grass
Early guidelines for infill materials specified the use of small grains of fine silica sand. Current choices include recycled (SBR) and new rubber (EPDM) pellets (or crumb), round dust-less acrylic coated silica granules and (currently under development and testing in European markets) synthetic pellets (or beadlets) made from custom blended components called thermoplastic elastomers or (TPE).
Each type of infill has it's own set of properties. The most commonly used, due to its effectiveness, availability and reasonable cost is recycled crumb rubber or SBR. Product quality can vary in the raw materials source, how it is processed, packaged and handled. Though most crumb rubber is sourced from within North American borders, imported materials are available and may not meet US standards.
No Slam Dunk - System Solutions Are Built to Perform and Last
System integrators and sports field builders engineer each field to specifications for local conditions and use. Plans specify materials, site preparation, excavation, drainage and base construction customized for each installation and budget. Systems have been developed over years of real-world, in-the-field experiences; honing each process and job material to optimize the complete set of components to deliver safety, durability, playability, along with a natural look and feel.
Professional builders using artificial turf materials for landscape and leisure sports uses, such as lawns, putting greens, tee lines, chipping areas and bocce ball courts, share the benefits of all the years of sport field product development with the home and commercial property owner. Recent fiber and tufting enhancements have evolved new styles that increase the appeal of faux grass materials to the property owner.
Landscape and leisure sports builders provide their own branded synthetic turf solutions, design and installation expertise, and base their product offerings upon best business practices for the project's site, design and use goals.
Market Growth Proves Acceptance Is High, Risks are Low,
Value Is There
The growth and acceptance of faux turf has been astounding, especially in the past few years, yet the amount of faux grass projects being constructed annually represents a mere 5% of all the carpet manufactured and used in the United States each year.
Synthetic grass and artificial turf markets are considered the fastest growing segment of the carpet market at a healthy combined market growth of 20+%* per year. The number of annual field installation contracts has nearly doubled since early 2000 and the applications and uses in the landscape and leisure sports markets keep expanding into new niche markets; community golf, bocce, play and multi-purpose sports areas, daycare, aviation, kennels and grey water run-off & erosion control.
Artificial Grass Market Size**
To learn more about chemicals, protecting your health, the environment and how you can avoid using hazardous products, visit Beyond Pesticides at www.beyondpesticides.org
For more information about the Artificial Grass Market
- Visit http://www.asgi.us
ASGi (c) 2007. All rights reserved.
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In today's world, no one can deny the need to reflect on the impact any activity may have on the environment, our health or our safety. We are in the middle of many significant advancements in technology while looking to our past to find answers to reduce our dependence on products that create greater environmental impact, health and safety risks than they may reduce or save. Inspired by the opulent grass areas gracing the grounds of English estates, lawns seem to be a unique "need" for Americans.
Many of our residential communities actually mandate the installation of lawn areas on properties without regard to financial and environmental costs. Over 30 million acres of "domestic" lawn areas grace US landscapes; over 1.68 trillion square feet. Synthetic turf products have proven, over and over, to be environmentally friendly, ergonomically pleasing and an economically sound investment. Naysayers of the use of faux grass surfaces for traditional, natural solutions would have you believe that these products are bad for the environment.
Entities such as Turf Producer's International (TPI), has thrown significant resources against the task of proving the use of synthetic turf is detrimental to humans and the environment and has failed to find the smoking gun. In 2004, TPI sent a press release out about a pending meeting to discuss the "hazards of artificial turf" with the EPA. The majority of the claims revolved around the use of recycled crumbed rubber as an infill (or ballast) material on the surfaces of the synthetic turf. (incorrectly reported in the release, as it continues to be on their web site, as being used as part of the base construction).
*TPI Claims Rubber Infill Materials TOXIC
The focus on the use of crumb rubber as an infill material was determined "generally harmless" in their own commissioned study of the subject prepared by Dr. Joseph Sullivan, Andrea Consulting, Sacramento, California.
His conclusions were that, recycled rubber tires, shredded and crumbed to use as infill, may only pose a threat to humans and pets if they are already prone to topical allergic reactions to these types of products; trying to prove that the rubber infill leaches extra-ordinary amounts of toxic waste and cancer causing agents into local landscape surfaces or our watershed was shown to be inconclusive.
Dr. Sullivan's report conclusion and summation, in a phrase, "no red flags here"; though, as with any scientist, he qualified his statements by saying that "further study may show different results in the future". [The report is no where to be found on the TPI web site for verification, though it appears as a footnote in various other inflamed TPI publications, bashing the use of synthetic grass and artificial turf; a copy is on file at ASGi and serves as reference].
Crumbed Rubber and Alternative Infill Materials
Studies based on the safe use of synthetic turf for sports have shown that in high-heat climates, synthetic turf surfaces may reach extraordinary heat levels compared with natural grasses. The use of crumb rubber has proven to be a contributor to the "heat" affects and is at the root of the toxicity concerns.
As an infill material, crumb rubber has served it's primary use as a top dressing on sports fields for over 15 years and in that time, professionals from pro-sports to collegiate, high school and inter-state sports groups have evaluated and tested these products every way possible.
Alternative infills have been on the market for several years; they are manufactured using either raw polyethylene pellets or a core of rounded silica sand granules that are then either encapsulated with new rubbers, acrylic or other materials and colored in tones, such as beige. The color and core structure of the materials make surfaces much cooler (manufacturer's claim - up to 50%), many new infill materials are anti-microbial, non-flammable, recyclable and completely inert to both humans and the environment.
Only 100 million square feet of synthetic grass & artificial turf was produced and installed last year (2006). This includes all the synthetic grass manufactured for sports fields (approximately 90 to 95% of total use) and other residential and commercial lawn, landscape and leisure sports uses. Compare that to the amount of acreage of lawns that are installed and synthetic turf represents less than 0.02% of overall surface area, installed annually.
The "lawn" industry represents the 5th largest "crop" that we sow in the United States; larger than soy, wheat and some other staple grains. In deference to the noise created by our natural competition, sod and natural turf producers, synthetic turf has several prevalent features that benefit our communities and enhance the form and function of our world.
One immediate benefit with the use of synthetic grass and artificial turf is that it completely eliminates the use of one of the top contributors to global warming, water and air pollution, the lawn mower! Another dynamic is the dramatic reduction of toxic chemicals, emissions and water usage.It's unfortunate that Turf Producers International and the sod and turf grass producers industry feels the need to create a public panic about synthetic grasses.
With two-cycle engines and lawn-care chemicals representing 8% of the cause/effect of global warming, how can you not see their need to focus attention away from their own industry abuses and products as gross polluters and contributors to global warming. Though we find that TPI's heart is in the right place in calling for caution, they might invest their efforts more wisely reflecting upon their own agenda and their level of involvement in both our global warming problem and its solution then trying to devalue a fantastic alternative approach such as using synthetic grass. We can all work together to find great solutions as a team; putting our heads together and figuring out the best answers to the vexing problems.
ASGi and its members know we can help the natural grass industry producers and natural grass users reduce their toxicity and deliver, both natural and synthetic grass solutions, that will co-exist and serve our blossoming world.
BAD LINK REPORT:
If a link is a "dead-end"
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Germs and Pathogens Run Rampant on Surfaces May Cause Out
Break of Disease Earlier generations of synthetic turf materials were very abrasive and are blamed for many septic scratches, cuts or open sores.
Personal hygiene along with many other factors have to be considered in each "case". Effectively cleaning and grooming turf surfaces can virtually eliminate odors,
germs and bacteria. Surfaces are LOW Maintenance and easy to clean and sanitize.
Newer generations of synthetic turf have been created to reduce or eliminate the potential for contact injuries. Blade materials also have new additives that are anti-microbial and help resist bacterial growth. If the surfaces are well-tended, surface injuries treated immediately and kept clean, little difference was noted from abrasion injuries noted from natural turf surfaces.
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Urban Legends About Hazards of Synthetic Turf Systems.
Use of crumbed rubber - ingestion
Unless allergic, materials are inert and will pass through the "system" and be eliminated naturally
Use of heavy metals in turf fibers or backing materials
Polyethylene and Polypropylene fibers manufactured and available for use in the US do not leach or contain heavy metals in their construction.
Artificial turf produced outside of the United States is not regulated for component level ingredients.
Silica Dust Particulates and Potential for Silicosis
Players and surface users will never be exposed to enough "dust" particulates to cause
even minor irritations, unless, otherwise allergic reactions are evidence topically
Installers and material handlers should take additional precautions on the
job site and wear filter masks while working with materials
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