Right now, there is a proposal to install an artificial turf field at Leo Santaballa field in Great Falls, Virginia.  There are serious health and environmental risks to consider.  Whatever comes off that field will go right into the creek, our lakes, and the entire watershed.

Our objection: the crumb rubber used on the field, as well the toxic chemicals used to keep it clean, will be washed directly into our watershed without any treatment to remove contaminants by Fairfax County. 

The EPA has identified a number of compounds that may be found in tires, which are recycled and used for the crumb rubber layer in artificial turf fields (1):

* acetone  * aniline  * arsenic  * barium  * benzene  * benzothiazole  * cadmium  * chloroethane          

* chromium  * cobalt  * copper  * halogenated flame retardants  * isoprene  * latex  * lead

* manganese  * mercury  * methyl ethyl ketone  * methyl isobutyl ketone  * naphthalene 

* nickel  * nylon  * phenol  * pigments  * polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons  * polyester  * rayon

* styrene‑butadiene  * toluene  * trichloroethylene


Water Systems Council, “Wellcare Information Sheets” (covers such topics as maintaining your well and testing and treating your well water):  http://watersystemscouncil.org/infoSheets.php

Coastal Marine Resource Center Policy Project, “The Effects of Crumb Rubber on Water Quality:” http://www.synturf.org/cmrorg.html (“Click here” hyperlink at bottom of page)

Delaware Riverkeeper Fact Sheet on Artificial Synthetic Turf, including human health and

environmental degradation statistics:



Claim: Crumb rubber is not harmful to the environment.

True or false? False.  Crumb rubber comprised of cut-up recycled tires.  According to the Coastal Marine Resource Center Policy Project 2008 paper “The Effects of Crumb Rubber on Water Quality,” a study from the Canadian government found that “all rainbow trout exposed to water containing scrap tires for 60 days died within 24 hours.”  As the crumb rubber disintegrates over time (fields are generally replaced every 8-10 years), it can prove even more toxic than when it is first put down.  In a study examining 3 tires with varying degrees of wear immersed in water, “the water from both the new and used tire...contain[ed] toxic lethate and proved fatal to rainbow trout.  The water from the used tired was more toxic...and remained toxic for 24 days longer...” 

The study goes on to explain that one of the most important factor in determining the likelihood and danger of water and marine life contamination is the “proximity to water sources” and that this proximity “play[s] a large role in the physical transport of crumb rubber pellets and the effect contaminants have on water quality.”  This points to the direct, negative relationship between how close the artificial turf field is to the nearest water source, and calls into serious question the proximity of Leo Santaballa field to Lake Marmota and the entire watershed of the Great Falls community (1)

Claim: Turf fields are 100% safe for children to play on.

True or false? False. According to the Center for Disease Control and myriad independent studies, much more research needs to be done, but what they’ve discovered so far doesn’t look good for children’s health.  The recycled tires used for the crumb rubber contains a range of hazardous chemicals and heavy metals, including but not limited to lead, zinc, and benzene, many of which are bioaccumulative (meaning they stay in your system and build).  Many of these toxic substances are released in the air as a form of dust as wear and tear and extreme heat levels degrade the crumb rubber, making it break down into fine particles (See CDC Health Alert in “Links and Resources” below). But that’s not the only health worry:

*In a 2,000 study amongst 17,549 high school and college football players, “the rate of surface-related head injury per 1000 athlete-exposures on artificial turf was approximately double that on natural turf. More significantly, 22% of the concussive impacts on artificial turf resulted in Grade II injuries involving loss of consciousness, compared with 9% of the impacts on natural turf. This finding equates to a five times greater risk of the more severe, Grade II MTBI (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury) on artificial turf” (2).

*MRSA and other harmful bacterial complexes are found on many synthetic fields, but do not exist on natural fields.  Children and teens are extremely susceptible to contracting MSRA from so-called “turf burns” -abrasions caused by sliding on artificial turf.  “Texas has artificial turf at 18% of its high school football stadiums… and an MRSA infection rate among players that is 16 times higher than the estimated national average” (3).

Claim: Artificial turf fields are cheaper than managing grass.

True or False? FalseAccording to 16-year scenario cost-evaluation study comparing a natural soil-based grass field, a six-inch sand-capped natural grass field, a basic synthetic field, and a premium synthetic field, the natural grass field had an annual average cost of $33,522, compared to the $65,846 and $109,013 annual costs of the basic and premium synthetic fields, respectively.  Brad Fresenburg, a Michigan University Extension turf grass specialist who completed the study claimed in an article that he did the study after “he was asked by fellow turf grass professions to do the analysis in response to claims that synthetic fields were cheaper,” going on to explain how the trend toward switching from natural to synthetic grass is accredited to the low cost of maintenance.  But Fresenburg categorically rebuffed that claim that synthetic fields are cheaper tan natural turf grass fields (4).

Claim: Artificial turf fields require almost no maintenance.

True or False: False.  Often, synthetic turf fields are portrayed as requiring significantly less management (and associated management costs) than natural grass.  On popular artificial turf company websites, the maintenance and cost of artificial turf seriously over-simplifies what is required of synthetic fields, essentially pointing to installation and disposal 8-10 years later.  However, the real maintenance includes: “1) additional infill, 2) irrigation because of unacceptably high temperatures on warm-sunny days, 3) chemical disinfectants, 4) sprays to reduce static cling and odors, 5) drainage repair and maintenance, 6) erasing and repainting temporary lines, and 7) removing organic matter accumulation (5).

Claim: More playing hours on a turf field.

True or False? True.  Unlike natural grass, you can play in rain or immediately after rain without surface restrictions such as mud.  However, turf fields get significantly hotter than regular fields (and even the ambient air temperature), and the Synthetic Turf Council advocates either watering the field (negating the “you never have to water synthetic fields!” argument), “misting the athletes” (more water usage), or for coaches to “schedule practices and games for the cooler times of day, and limit the number and duration of practices” (6). Keep in mind: that is limiting the number and duration of practices because the synthetic turf is too hot, not because it is too hot outside to play.  It seems fairly reasonable to suppose that there are an even number, if not more hot days that would restrict play on synthetic turf due to high temperatures than there are rainy days that make the natural field too muddy to play on (7).

Claim: Playing on artificial turf is just as safe as playing natural turf grass.

True or False?  False.  According to a member of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, NFL players playing on artificial turf were 27% more likely to sustain a lower extremity injury when the game was played on artificial FieldTurf instead of natural turf grass.  Specifically, there was an 88% increased risk of an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament and a 32% increased risk of an eversion ankle sprain when playing on artificial turf (8).  In addition, according to Kevin M. Guskiewicz, PhD’s 2000 study, “Epidemiology of Concussion in Collegiate and High School Football Players,” “Contact with artificial turf appears to be associated with a more serious concussion than contact with natural grass” (9).

Claim: The levels of chemicals and heavy metals in crumb rubber is so tiny, people can’t even be exposed to it (i.e. meaning there’s no health risk).

True or False? False. According to the New York City government study on artificial turf, “[a]lthough the potential for significant exposure to the chemicals in crumb rubber is very low, there are three possible ways for people to have contact with these chemicals on artificial turf fields:

* Accidentally ingesting small amounts of crumb rubber by putting fingers in the mouth or not washing hands before eating after playing on the fields

    * Breathing in dust and vapors while playing on the fields. Crumb rubber may become dust as it wears and the rubber may give off some vapors.

    * Direct skin contact with the crumb rubber (10).

Claim: Synthetic turf is better for the environment than natural grass: it doesn’t use pesticides or fertilizers, and doesn’t need to be watered, so it saves water.

True or False? False. Let’s address each claim one by one:

    *No pesticides or fertilizers?  How about industrial strength antibacterial and anti-algae cleaners.  Bodily liquids like sweat drip onto the field during practices and games.  Unlike natural grass which has a layer of soil in it to absorb and filter these substances, the synthetic turf grass (primarily made of plastic) traps and holds onto these bacteria-infused liquids, making future games a breeding ground for dangerous bacterial infections like MRSA when anyone has forceful contact (i.e. a slide tackle or fall) with the turf.  In order to make synthetic turf safe to play on, it has to be regularly sanitized with a commercial strength cleaner that will get rid of all the harmful bacterial build up (11)

    *How this affects the environment: these heavy-duty cleaners don’t just kill the bacteria on the field.  They kill any microorganism they come into contact with, meaning if a field is sprayed and rain water washes it off the field, those chemicals are swept up in the stormwater runoff and make their way into the nearby lakes and streams, destroying the already fragile aquatic ecosystems. 

    *Don’t natural fields use harsh pesticides and fertilizers that destroy the environment?  While there are still places that choose to ignore the environmental degradation warning signs, many people have discovered how well organic, environmentally-friendly products work for weed and pest control.  A natural field certainly does not require the use of harsh, unnatural chemicals, and can be managed for the same cost, effort, and end result with organic products.

    *No watering?  Not exactly.  Synthetic turf gets extremely hot during summer months, and the only way to cool the fields down is by watering them continuously (they heat up again quickly, usually in about 20 minutes).

    *Environmental harms: That too-high heat that can make synthetic turf uncomfortable to play on?  It can also increase the ambient air temperature.  Natural grass cools the environment around it down as part of its natural ecosystem role.  Unsurprisingly, synthetic turf doesn’t cool anything down, and in fact can increase the ambient air temperature, affecting nearby organism (though unlike natural fields that are home to myriad different organisms and their own ecosystem, synthetic turf fields don’t house any important members of the ecosystem on or beneath their surfaces).

Claim: Synthetic fields clean the water.

True or False? False. While there is some filtration of water, the fine filtration is at the very top surface and is done by the crumb rubber so it only gets rid of larger, solid debris.  The crumb rubber itself is a common contaminant (including toxic chemicals and heavy metals), and possible a layer of sand.  After that, there are several feet of crushed stone of increasing size, but absolutely nothing to stop water contaminants like lead, benzene, zinc and bacterial complexes from getting through.  Artificial turf simply cannot act like a natural water filter as natural grass does, absorbing water in the soil (thus reducing stormwater runoff) and purifying water passing through its root zone (12).

Claim: The fields are a permeable surface and retain stormwater.

True or False? False. Most artificial turf fields have a top layer of artificial turf with layers of crumb rubber from pulverized tires, on top of a membrane with perforation holes in it.  Below that is a layer about 9 feet deep of crushed rock in varying sizes.  The rock drains to two holding tanks, holding approximately 10,000 gallons total (about 1/2 of an average-sized 30’x15’x6’ family swimming pool).  The water stays in the tanks until it is replaced by new rainwater so it is only a one-time hold and not a true seepage situation that would allow regular percolation of water down to the water table. “For artificial turf, the field is going to collect about 95% of the water that comes down. Depending on the storm water requirements, there could be a problem with the amount of water that is being placed into the downward system of the storm water management.”  The water in the tanks leaches directly into the stormwater management system (usually drains), that lead directly into our local streams, rivers, and lakes, carrying all of the microscopic toxic substances that weren’t caught in the “grease trap” (13).

Closer to home: Ignoring the big picture just for a minute, let’s look closer to home: Lake Marmota is the first slow down point for the runoff from Leo Santaballa field.  All of the chemicals and heavy metals in the crumb rubber, not to mention the antibacterial and/or anti-algae chemicals applied to the synthetic turf to keep it clean, safe, and smelling better, will most likely end up in Lake Marmota.  This is not only terrible news for the Lake, its aquatic ecosystem (including fish, grasses, and migrating birds) and the residents who rely on it for recreation, it goes directly against Fairfax County’s and the community’s efforts to clean up the lake, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.  To spend that amount of money and effort to clean up the lake only to willingly allow toxics to leach into is a monumental waste of time and money.



  1. 1.EPA study “The Use of Recycled Tire Materials on Playgrounds & Artificial Turf Fields,” downloaded from http://www.epa.gov/nerl/features/tire_crumbs.html. 2009.

  2. 2.Coastal Marine Resource Center Policy Project, “The Effects of Crumb Rubber on Water Quality,” downloaded from http://www.synturf.org/cmrorg.html. 2008.

  3. 3.Kevin M. Guskiewicz, PhD, “Epidemiology of Concussion in Collegiate and High School Football,” downloaded from http://ajs.sagepub.com/content/28/5/643.abstract. 2000.

  4. 4.Martyn R. Shorten, PhD, and Jennifer A. Himmelsbach, MS, “Sports surfaces and the risk of traumatic brain injury,” downloaded from www.isss.de/conferences/Calgary2003/Shorten-BrainInjury.pdf. 2003

  5. 5.Chuck Adamson, University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural

    Resources, “Synthetic Turfgrass Costs Far Exceed Natural Grass Playing Fields, downloaded from    

    http://cafnr.missouri.edu/research/turfgrass-costs.php/. July 2006.

6. University of Arkansas Turfgrass Science, “Synthetic (Artificial) Turf vs. Natural Grass Athletic          

    Fields, downloaded from http://turf.uark.edu/turfhelp/archives/021109.html. 2008.

  1. 7.Synthetic Turf Council, Frequently Asked Questions, downloaded from http:/ www.syntheticturfcouncil.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=209. 2008.

  2. 8.Williams C.F., and G.E. Pulley. 2003. Synthetic surface heat studies. Available at: http://cahe.nmsu.edu/programs/turf/documents/brigham-young-study.pdf

  3. 9.Todd Neale, Med Page Today, “AAOS: Artificial Turf Injuries Still More Likely in NFL,” downloaded from http://www.medpagetoday.com/MeetingCoverage/AAOS/19020. March 15, 2010.

  4. 10.New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Environmental and Occupational Disease Epidemiology, “Fact Sheet on Synthetic Turf Used in Athletic Fields and Play Areas,” downloaded from http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/eode/eode-turf.shtml. 2009.

  5. 11.Victor Epstein, Bloomberg, “Texas Football Succumbs to Virulent Staph Infection From Turf,” downloaded from http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=alxhrJDn.cdc&refer=news. December 21, 2007.

  6. 12.University of Arkansas Turfgrass Science, “Synthetic (Artificial) Turf vs. Natural Grass Athletic Fields, downloaded from http://turf.uark.edu/turfhelp/archives/021109.html. 2008.

  7. 13.Western Sod, “Artificial Turf: Fact VS Fiction,” downloaded from http://www.westernsod.com/sodblog/115. November 2009.

  8. 14.Kevin Newell, BNET Sports Publications, “Down under: getting to the root of sub-base construction for football fields,” downloaded from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FIH/is_4_74/ai_n17207700/. November 2004.

                                   More Links and Resources:

Learn More About the Possible Risks Associated with Artificial Turf

Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition, Rosanne Hurwitz:


Centers for Disease Control Health Alert (turf degradation and lead dust):


Montgomery County Staff Report on Artificial Turf Fields: a compendium of information and community input, July 2010:


Washington Post article: