Synthetic playing fields: Experts to discuss safety
Tribune file photo
The safety of artificial turf will be discussed by a panel of pediatric, environmental health and law experts at 7 p.m. Monday at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Center in Chicago.
Artificial turf is often used as an alternative to natural grass, which can get torn up and muddy and can be difficult to maintain.
But some people have expressed concern over the turf’s "infill," which functions like dirt and is used to give the ground some cushion. Infill is usually made of tire crumb, or ground-up recycled car and truck tires. Though the substance looks pristine and requires little maintenance, some worry that athletes playing on these fields may be exposed to chemicals that may pose health risks.
Synthetic field and shredded-tire playground surfaces have been endorsed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for years. But there's little data available about the possible toxicological risks from the surface, according to documents released to the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Meanwhile, the EPA has said it isn't certain that chronic exposure to the chemicals found in tire crumb is safe.
Expected panelist Dr. Susan Buchanan, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, cites three main health concerns regarding artificial turf fields or playgrounds that use crumb rubber surfaces on her blog Greenkidsdoc.
But there's no consensus on the risk to children from playing on artificial turf fields. “Parents should be aware that the research is inadequate to determine whether these fields are safe for young children who play on them regularly," said Buchanan.
In addition to Buchanan, expected panelists include Dr. Joel Forman, an associate professor of pediatrics and community and preventive medicine at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York; Dr. Helen Binns, a professor in pediatrics and preventive medicine at Children's Memorial Hospital; and Carolyn Raffensperger, executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network.
The event is sponsored by healthyplay.org, a group formed by parents whose children attend Francis W. Parker School in Chicago.
In January, Parker School officials proposed using a synthetic turf surface with a crumb rubber infill to replace the school's existing natural grass field. After consideration, they decided to seek out an alternative to crumb rubber.