Spring is here and the parks are full of families with children, soccer games being played, and people enjoying the sunshine. Would you suspect that running or playing on a field can be potentially harmful to you or your children and pets?
I’m a creature of the sunshine and when I get an opportunity to go to the park, I tend to go. Last week I went to a local park and tossed the football around with a friend on a field made of field turf.
When I got home from playing at the park and took off my shoes, I found a bunch of small black pellets in the bottom of my shoes and on my socks. I was curious as to what they were made of, especially since I brought them home to my personal environment.
I happen to own an environmental technology company (Essco Safety Check) that utilizes X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzers to help people and businesses know what is in their environment. XRF analyzers are a non-destructive testing source that can identify certain elements; we use them primarily to detect heavy metals in consumer products, housing, soil, but virtually anything can be tested.
I decided to test the black pellets that I brought home with me to find out what they are made of. The results showed that approximately 180 parts per million (ppm) of lead are present in these black pellets.
The amount of lead found in the black pellets is below the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) which regulates consumer products designed for children and has a limit standard of 300ppm of lead. The Washington State soil action level is at 400ppm, so in each case, the level of lead is below either regulation. However, lead is present and after playing on this field, I took the lead home with me.
Artificial field turf consist of plastic fibers and typically include an “in-fill” material which is commonly made of rubber pellets, made from recycled automobile tires, known as “crumb rubber.”
What about children playing on that field? What about dogs playing Frisbee? What about bringing these pellets to your home environment? What about when it rains and the water runoff? I had many questions about these findings and decided a little more field work and research was needed.
I went back to the field to collect more samples of the black pellets, and a soil sample from near the field. I planned on running around the field turf for some exercise, primarily to collect samples. I walked to the corner of the field, where a corner kick would take place from and tossed my knapsack down. I was just about ready to run when I noticed that the white painted area of the corner kick section was dotted with black specks. I got down on my hands and knees and realized those black specks were “crumb rubber”.
Collecting samples was as easy as wiping the surface of the field, but simply placing my hand or knee on the field surface, black pellets stuck to my skin. I collected my samples of black pellets, grabbed a soil sample from an open patch of soil under a tree (I’ve seen families eat lunch there) and went back to my office to analyze the samples and contact city and state officials.
The amount of lead found in the second sample of “crumb rubber” matched the first test results of 180ppm. In addition to lead, zinc was also found at a level of 11% or 110000ppm. The potential problem with zinc is potential water contamination from leaching or runoff. The fact that zinc and lead are found does not mean that they will cause harm, but since they are present, there is a potential for harm.
To be honest, field turf offers some benefits to the user and environment. These fields offer all-weather playability, which results in longer playing hours. There is reduced maintenance, including hours worked, reduced water consumption, herbicides, pesticides and equipment used.
Unfortunately, there are some environmental concerns, specifically about potential toxicants. Using recycled tires, “crumb rubber” as in-fill, can create some concerns, especially about the chemical composition and exposure, which can potentially harm the field users, especially children and pets. Tires are known to contain toxic and potentially carcinogenic compounds including, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heavy metals (lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, nickel, iron, zinc, manganese) and more.
I unfortunately do not know the chemical composition of the “crumb rubber” I tested, but lead and zinc are positively present. I additionally found levels of bromine, which can be of some concern to particular health and regulatory officials (depending on location).
The field turf that was originally tested and found with lead had two sister fields at this park. Testing of these sister fields showed levels of lead in the “crumb rubber” to be between 20-30ppm and the zinc levels higher in both additional fields. These additional fields were installed more recently than the original field tested and reported with 180ppm of lead. The soil sample collected was not found with any detectable amounts of lead (the XRF analyzer used has a lower limit standard of 10ppm for lead).
What does all of this mean? A synthetic field has more lead than the soil around it and that lead is easily transportable to your personal environment.
If i went on vacation to this park, my shirt should read: I went to this beautiful park to run and play, and all I got was lead in my shoes.
Do you know what is in your environment?
Know what is in your environment and mitigate harm.