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Health Center Today, August 2, 2010

Result of State Artificial Turf Fields Study: No Elevated Health Risk

By Carolyn Pennington

A new study of artificial turf fields containing crumb rubber infill conducted by researchers at the UConn Health Center and three other state agencies shows that health risks are not elevated from playing on the fields. However, higher contaminant levels at one indoor field indicate that ventilation of indoor fields should be considered.

"This study presents good news regarding the safety of outdoor artificial turf fields," stated Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. J. Robert Galvin. "While the findings indoors were below the health risk targets, the elevated contaminant levels suggest a need to ventilate these fields so they can be brought to the level of safety outdoors."

The study was undertaken because questions have been raised about health risks associated with playing sports on artificial turf fields, which are often made with rubber material that can release compounds into the air.

A key aspect of the study was a field investigation conducted in July 2009, when the Health Center sent a team of researchers to four outdoor fields and one indoor field across Connecticut. Three soccer players at each field were equipped with personal monitoring devices and the recorded results, together with the stationary samplers, were used to characterize possible exposures. Overall, approximately 200 chemicals were tested at each field.

Nancy Simcox, a research industrial hygienist at the Occupational and Environmental Health Center, says some chemicals in rubber may vaporize to form a gas (volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) such as toluene and benzothiazole) while others, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), may remain attached to the surfaces of small solid particles.

"One unique aspect of this study is that we measured a range of exposures including benzothiazole, VOCs, and other chemicals in the breathing zone of athletes using artificial crumb rubber turf fields," says Simcox.

The Department of Public Health (DPH) used the data from the field investigation to evaluate health risks. Exposures and risks were not elevated relative to what is commonly found in outdoor air for both children and adults using the fields. Indoor fields showed higher levels of chemical emissions. While these levels do not suggest a health risk, DPH recommends ventilation of indoor fields and that developers of new indoor fields should consider alternatives to crumb rubber infill as a cushioning agent.

The turf field at UConnís Shenkman Training Center was one of five locations included in the study. The researchers found it poses no danger to players or visitors to the facility.

"The report indicates that the facilityís air poses no significant or unusual health risk to those using the athletic field, even under a simulated worse-case scenario," a situation where the facilities doors are closed and the ventilation system is off, said Terri Dominguez, manager of UConnís Department of Environmental Health and Safety.

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) evaluated the environmental risk associated with storm water runoff from the artificial turf fields tested in the air study. Three of eight storm water samples showed elevated levels of zinc leaching from the fields that may present a risk to aquatic organisms. Other metals and rubber related compounds tested in run off were not elevated. Based on these results, DEP concludes that there is no risk to drinking water from this runoff, but a potential risk exists for surface waters and aquatic organisms. Proper management of this runoff is prudent to address possible environmental effects.

The study findings were peer reviewed by the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, whose comments were incorporated into the final report.

"What weíve learned from this study in Connecticut will provide valuable guidance to municipalities, schools and others who operate or are considering installing artificial playing fields," adds Dr. Galvin.

For more information and to view the entire study, visit www.ct.gov/dep/artificialturf.