Artificial Turf in Toronto
Artificial turf, a surface of synthetic fibres made to look like natural grass, is increasingly being used in places like sports fields, child care facilities and streetscapes. It is also used in play areas, residential/commercial landscaping, roadway medians, bases of street trees, rooftop decks, and patios, balconies around swimming pools, pet areas and airports. Toronto Public Health completed a health impact assessment to better understand the potential implications of this increase in use.
In certain cases artificial turf can sustain higher levels of use than natural surfaces and could be appropriate in areas which would otherwise not be available as an active space for a community. The use of third generation artificial turf is not expected to result in exposure to contaminants at levels that pose a significant risk to human health provided it is properly installed and maintained and users follow good hygienic practices. Under such conditions, and in the cases where use of natural turf is not possible or practical, the benefits from increased physical activity on fields are expected to outweigh the risks. In addition, available evidence indicates that, while playing on artificial fields results in a different pattern of injuries, it does not result in an overall increase in injuries when compared to natural turf surfaces. However, outdoor artificial turf surfaces can become hot during the summer months so it is important to take steps to prevent heat stress and surface burns to skin.
Artificial turf field users need to be aware of the potential for heat-related injuries and of the importance of good hygienic practices that minimise any exposure to substances found in artificial turf. Field users should:
a) Ensure access to drinking water, opportunities for breaks and access to shade;
b) Be able to recognize symptoms and apply first aid for heat-related illness;
c) Wash hands after playing on artificial turf;
d) Supervise small children and ensure they do not eat the infill material;
e) Avoid eating on the artificial turf;
f) Avoid tracking infill material into the school or home (shaking visible rubber pellets off, or providing shoe/equipment cleaning areas before exiting the field);
g) Protect exposed skin from direct contact with the turf during hot weather events;
h) Clean and disinfect abrasions and cover them as soon as possible.
Facility operators contemplating the installation of artificial turf as a replacement for a natural or hardscape surface should:
a) Consider the installation of artificial turf only in situations where the conditions on the site and the high use of the space would prevent the maintenance of a healthy natural turf;
b) Incorporate landscape design strategies that minimize urban heat island and climate change related effects, which can include increasing natural vegetation, decreasing the use of impervious surfaces and reducing the amount of other surfaces with high heat retention properties on the site and in surrounding areas;
c) Include mitigation strategies that address water quality issues such as water capture and drainage, and maintenance and sanitation procedures;
d) Prevent heat-related health impacts by providing shade and drinking water, and prohibit the use of the field when artificial turf surfaces become very hot such as during heat alert and extreme heat alert days;
e) Post messages on outdoor artificial fields to remind users of the potential for heat-related injuries on hot days and of the use of good hygienic practices;
f) Ensure proper ventilation in indoor artificial turf facilities;
g) Adopt protocols for selecting and purchasing artificial turf systems that address concerns regarding chemical content, heat absorption, and other environmental and health and safety factors;
h) Prevent toddlers’ direct exposure to artificial turf that does not meet limits for children’s products as outlined in Health Canada’s Consumer Products Containing Lead Regulation;
i) When available, use alternative infill materials and/or less solar absorbing materials in new installations, rather than crumb rubber infill made from recycled tires; and
j) Ensure that maintenance protocols are followed and procedure in place to inspect, test, and replace any existing synthetic turf that may age or deteriorate.
- TPH has conducted a health impact assessment on the use of artificial turf. While the HIA focussed on the use of artificial turf on sports fields and children’s play spaces, its findings are also relevant to home lawns and commercial and other landscaping applications. The HIA reviewed a range of potential impacts and identified strategies to safeguard health and the environment while concurrently maximising opportunities to promote health and health equity.
- A large number of studies have been conducted to assess the risks from potential exposure to contaminants related to artificial turf materials. Many other studies have examined injuries, heat-related concerns, storm water management and ecosystem health.
For more information on this position statement: Contact the Healthy Environments Technical and Support Team at 416-392-7685.