The Plan
Frequently Asked Questions - Health and Environmental
Are synthetic turf fields safe?

Yes, many federal, California, other state and local agencies have consistently verified the safety of synthetic turf.

  • July 2010 - A new study of artificial turf fields containing crumb rubber infill conducted by four state agencies shows that health risks are not elevated from playing on the fields. (news story) (full report)
  • December 2009 - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study on the crumb rubber infill of a limited number of synthetic turf fields and playgrounds found that the air concentration of particulate matter and lead were well below levels of concern. (fact sheet) (full report
  • July 2009 - California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment released a full literature review regarding the safety of artificial turf fields and found low health risks, even when overestimated in a test scenario. (summary) (full report)
  • June 2009 - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency preliminary results suggest that there is no danger of inhaling lead dust while playing on artificial fields (news story)
  • May 2009 - New York State Department of Environmental Convservation and the Department of Health released a new study validating the safety of crumb rubber.(summary)full report)
  • March 2009 and May 2008 - New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygeine released findings of its studies of health and safety and air quality risk of synthetic turf fields using crumb rubber infill. Among the findings: no increased risk for human health effects as a result of ingestion, dermal or inhalation exposure to crumb rubber. (overview)(full report, health/safety)(full report, air)
  • August 2008 - New York State Department of Health Fact and Resource Sheet: "Based on the available information, chemical exposures from crumb rubber in synthetic turf do not pose a public health hazard."
  • July 2008 - US Consumer Product Safety Commission examined the safety of synthetic turf and declared it "OK to install, OK to play on" (overview) (full report)
  • June 2007 - New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection released a white paper finding no obvious toxicological concern raised that crumb rubber used for outdoor playgrounds and playing fields would cause adverse healthy effects.(abstract)
  • January 2007 - California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) found no danger in outdoor play or track surfaces using similar recycled rubber to that in synthetic turf. (SF DPH analysis)

San Francisco has also conducted its own extensive review of synthetic turf and even developed tough purchasing standards for athletic fields in the City.

  • July 2009 - Recreation and Park Commission accepted new synthetic turf purchasing standards developed by the SF Department of the Environment, SF Recreation and Parks, and the City Fields Foundation.  The standards require end-of-life recycling, encourage the purchase of products with high amounts of post-consumer recycled content, restrict the amount of heavy metals, and mandate independent tests of all synthetic turf products.  Recreation and Parks Memo about new Synthetic Turf Purchasing Standards.
  • April - October 2008 - The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Commission established a task force of scientists and park users to review all the synthetic turf-related issues and research, and provide recommendations.  Over the summer of 2008, the task force reviewed research on eleven different subject areas, developed practical suggestions to improve artificial turf installations in San Francisco and identified several research gaps meriting further study.  Their findings were presented to the Recreation and Park Commission in October 2008 and formed a basis for the city's synthetic turf purchasing standards.  Synthetic Playfields Task Force Report.
  • January - February 2008 - Prior to these efforts, in January and February 2008, the San Francisco Department of the Environment and the Department of Public Health reviewed existing studies and conducted one of their own, and found no reason to close or stop installing artificial turf fields and even identified several environmental benefits such as reduced water and pesticide use.   Department of the Environment memo. Department of Public Health memo.
Does synthetic turf cause staph infections?

No. According to the SF Department of Public Health’s February 2008 memo, "MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is now a common disease in the community, primarily spread from skin to skin contact, and we are not aware of evidence that suggests synthetic turf as a vehicle of infection. Any type of skin breakdown, including 'turf burns,' may provide a portal of entry for infection. Thus, in order to prevent MRSA or other infection, athletes and children should practice standard wound care in the event of turf burn, regardless of the type of turf on which the injury occurs."

 

The memo was written in consultation with Dr. Erica Pan, a SF Department of Public Health physician expert in MRSA staph bacteria. According to the Synthetic Playfield Task Force Report, Dr. Pan "emphasized that MRSA is not a problem on grass or synthetic turf because people get these infections from skin contact, open sores and contact with other people. To prevent infection, the Department of Public Health recommends proper wound care."

 

The task force report summarized its findings by saying: "The study group did not find evidence that there is any greater risk to the public health from bacteria growing on a synthetic field versus bacteria found elsewhere in the environment." The same findings about MRSA and the lack of correlation to synthetic turf were reiterated in the July 2009 California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment study. (summary) (full report )

How is the turf cleaned? Is a special detergent required?

The Recreation and Park Department regularly cleans the fields of debris and grooms the turf to improve play. While different brands of turf have slightly different maintenance requirements, the basics are the same — weekly sweeping to pick up small debris like leaves and bottle caps, and bi-monthly grooming using a large "broom drag" to even out the rubber infill and raise the turf fibers. Some companies also suggest bi-monthly grooming using a "field groomer" which loosens the infill and brushes the fibers up.

 

Special detergents are not recommended for synthetic turf fields and are not used in San Francisco. When the turf requires extra cleaning, park staff uses soap and water as recommended by the turf manufacturers.

Are players more likely to get injured on synthetic turf fields?

No. According to the Synthetic Playfield Task Force Report, "injury rates appear to be most closely related to the type of sport and no significant difference were found for injuries on synthetic turf when compared to well-maintained natural turf. However, two studies found more skin abrasions on synthetic turf, which could contribute to infections if not properly cared for with first aid."

Under the lights at Silver Terrace
Do San Francisco’s synthetic turf fields get too hot for play?

No. San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department has never had a single complaint about their synthetic turf fields getting too hot for play, and has never closed a field due to hot weather.

Do synthetic turf fields save water?

Yes. Each synthetic turf athletic field saves approximately 1.5 million gallons of water per year, compared to a grass field.

Do synthetic turf fields reduce landfill waste?

Yes. For the Crocker Amazon fields alone, 55,264 tires were diverted from landfill and reused as synthetic turf infill instead. The California Integrated Waste Management Board gave the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks a grant for $60,000 for diverting the tires from landfill.

Is synthetic turf recyclable?

Yes. In fact, San Francisco is the first city in the nation to require end-of-life recycling plans at the time the City purchases the synthetic turf for its athletic fields. The synthetic turf purchasing standards -- developed by the SF Department of the Environment, SF Recreation and Parks, and the City Fields Foundation and adopted by the Recreation and Parks Commission in July 2009 -- require end-of-life recycling, encourage the purchase of products with high amounts of post-consumer recycled content, restrict the amount of heavy metals, and mandate independent tests of all synthetic turf products.  San Francisco is at the forefront of the discussion about recycling synthetic turf and we believe our efforts will help guide the industry towards a more sustainable future.

Will synthetic turf fields pollute our water?

No. According to the Synthetic Playfield Task Force Report, any rainfall that exceeds national or state water standards is captured by the drainage system installed underneath the turf and diverted into the City’s wastewater system for filtration and purification.

 

The report notes that the fields may initially leach some heavy metals in excess of national and state standards, but that the concentrations drop to safe levels within a few months and that any leaching was "very localized and did not affect a large area." Furthermore, potential risks can be reduced by selecting field renovation sites not prone to flooding, and installing drainage systems underneath the fields to divert water into the wastewater system.

 

City Fields and Recreation and Park have always and will continue to limit synthetic turf installations to fields sitting above the water table. The partnership has further committed to only selecting sites that aren’t prone to flooding

Can synthetic turf fields catch fire?

While there is only a very small chance the fields will catch fire, it is possible. The two known fires on turf that have been studied both cases involved arson. According to the Synthetic Playfield Task Force Report, "the flash point (the temperature at which a material will initially ignite) and auto ignition data suggest that the hazard is minimal. The spread of flames was slow in two known playground fires involving loose-fill crumb rubber, and no one was injured. Both fires were initially started by juveniles who used matches, paper, and wood to ignite the crumb rubber."

In addition, all the fields installed in San Francisco have passed the ASTM D 2859 Flammability (Pill) Test.

In 2008, the State of California required a study be conducted comparing turf and grass. What has happened with that study?

The 2008 law requires the state to study and report on "the effects of synthetic turf and natural turf on the environment and public health." The study must be completed by September 1, 2010. The findings released in July 2009 by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment are the first findings under the study, and the full literature review affirmed the safety of artificial turf fields and found low health risks, even when overestimated in a test scenario. (summary) (full report)