Home » Health & Safety Channel » Turf Wars: Pros and Cons of Artificial Turf

Turf Wars: Pros and Cons of Artificial Turf

Artificial turf, usually constructed of polyethylene plastic grass and an in-fill base of "crumb rubber" from ground-up recycled tires (as many as 10,000 in a single field) have become increasingly popular in communities all across the country.

As more grass fields are converted to synthetic turf (according to a spokesperson for the Synthetic Turf Council in Atlanta about 900 new synthetic turf fields were installed at schools nationwide in 2008), however, a debate has been heating up about possible health risks and the advantages and disadvantages of artificial turf fields.

The following is a summary of the pros and cons of artificial turf:


  • Lower maintenance costs. While the initial cost (around $600K) is high, proponents claim that upkeep is much less expensive, dropping by some estimates from $35K to $5K per year.  Some question whether artificial turf is as financially friendly as touted, citing the need for repairs, vacuuming, refilling and even watering, suggesting that the fields may not last as long as advertised, and raising the thorny problem of disposal.
  • Pesticide-free. Unlike natural grass, artificial turf doesn't require treatment with pesticides and fertilizers (note, however, the success some towns are having with organic grass fields).
  • Increased playability.  Artificial turf fields are much more durable than grass; because playability is much higher, they allow broader access; can be played on all the time; in time of scarce fields, they give youth sports organizations practice space they might otherwise not have; the problem of spring and fall rains which result in cancellation of numerous games and practices slated for grass fields is eliminated; one match on a muddy field can ruin the field for the rest of the season.
  • Fewer injuries: Durability and an even playing surface mean fewer injuries and  unlike grass that gets torn up by rough play and eventually turns into vast patches of slippery mud (twisted ankles from potholes, uneven playing surface, slips in the mud).
  • Saves water. An average grass playing field uses about 50,000 gallons of water per week during the growing season."


  • Heat hazard.  The heat-absorbing properties of an artificial field make it too hot to play on in extremely warm weather. On a 98-degree day, the temperature on the turf could rise to more than 120 degrees. A Brigham Young University study found that the surface temperature of synthetic turf at its football practice field was 37 degrees higher than the air temperature. Proponents point out that use of the fields can be managed to ensure that athletes aren't playing at the hottest times of the day and are adequately hydrated; as a result, they argue, the higher temperature is more of a comfort issue than safety issue.
  • Lead. Excessive exposure to lead has been linked to severe mental retardation, stunted growth and death. As Don Mays, senior director of product safety at the Consumer's Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, says, "There is no safe level of lead; let's be clear on that." The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees, saying that there is no safe level of lead exposure and suggesting that levels in soil be no higher than trace amounts (40 parts per million).
    • Older turf fields made from nylon or nylon/polyethylene blend fibers may contain levels of lead that pose a potential public health concern. Tests of artificial turf fields made with only polyethylene fibers showed that these fields contained very low levels of lead. 
    • Field Turf, the largest artificial turf manufacturer in North America, sells a lead-free artificial turf, but only if the community asks for the custom-made field. The fields that most communities purchase use lead to brighten the field's colors and for a sport team logo.
    • Says Jackie Lombardo, a member of the Sierra Club National Toxics Committee, "We know older turf products contain toxic chemicals associated with asthma, learning disabilities, and cancer. Saying they are safe because they don't contain lead is like saying cigarettes are safe because they don't contain lead. There are so many chemicals in this synthetic grass and we don't know what the effects are going to be not only on children's health, but also what the effects are on the ground water as well."
    • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has consistently recommended "the elimination of all non-essential uses of lead" because of the potential health hazards they pose and has long considered lead dust one of the biggest known health hazards to children; it notes that the combination of age, weathering, exposure to sunlight and wear and tear can cause dust containing lead to be released from older or well-used fields.
  • Zinc hazard: A Connecticut-based environmental advocacy group, Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI), has been sounding warnings about artificial turf fields for a number of years and found support for its contentions in a preliminary study in 2007 by researchers at the Connecticut agricultural experiment station which examined the contents of "crumb rubber" and concluded that several potentially dangerous chemical compounds could escape into the air or leach into water under certain conditions. Levels of zinc found leaching into water were inordinately high. A study by University of North Carolina found a possible link between continued exposure to zinc and cardiovascular damage.
  • Other harmful chemicals: according to EHHI, shredded rubber could contain other toxic metals like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and selenium.
  • Toxic run-off. When an artificial field drains after a heavy rain, the run-off (which may contain lead and infill material) could leach into and contaminate a community's ground and drinking water.
  • Increased MRSA risk. Open skin lesions (so-called "turf burns") put athletes at increased risk of MRSA. Studies have shown that athletes who use synthetic turf are seven times more likely to receive turf burns than those who play on natural grass. These open lesions are often the source of contracting and vehicle for spreading dangerous infections. In fact, a 2003 study of MRSA infections among St. Louis Rams football players found that all eight MRSA infections began at turf burn sites. 
  • Bacterial breeding ground. Medical experts have found that staphylococci and other bacteria can survive on polyethylene plastic, the compound used to make synthetic turf blades, for more than 90 days. Blood, sweat, skin cells and other materials can remain on the synthetic turf because the fields are not washed or cleaned.
  • Adverse affect on asthmatics. Breathing in dust of ground-up tires could exacerbate breathing problems for asthmatics.
  • Once artificial, always artificial. Once a community goes with artificial turf, it has no choice but to install another artificial turf field when the first one needs to be replaced because once plastic replaces natural grass, it kills any living organism in the subsoil making it impossible without years of soil remediation to grow anything on that surface.

Thank you and more on artificial turf fields

Thank you very much Lindsey! This was a great summary.  Here in maryland at a local new plastic school field we measured temperatures as much as 60-70 deg F higher than real grass in full sun. (145 deg F one day as the football team started practice and a high of 167 deg F at 93 deg air temp- which by the way were both much hotter even than the asphalt parking lot). <!--

--> Thank you for the great link to the article on Branford CT's dozens of durable, heavily used, organically maintained natural turf fields. I have talked to folks there and learned that  the one outdoor artificial turf field they have in Branford was replaced twice in 12 years at great cost while Alex's oldest natural grass fields (which he claims are used 7 days a week march -nov for multiple sports) are now going on 20 years old and looking like they were almost new. The difference in amount of play is not that much between the two types but the difference in cost is huge. They just received an award from the State of CT for their pioneering tough healthy natural turf fields.<--

-->Also, on the need for water- this supposed rationale drives us crazy because: 1) of course artificial turf fields need water for cooling and cleaning (if the owners of the fields are responsible in caring for them and those who play on them) 2) the state of the art irrigation now is stormwater capture and reuse (or wastewater treatment and reuse) for irrigation of fields. This is required in Florida and some other regions. MUCH cheaper and more environmentally responsible than a plastic/rubber field. 

Also here are some of the award-winning examples including from UNC-CH (my grad school alma mater so I put it first) . WateReuse Presents Awards of Excellence:  WateReuse Institution of the Year: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC)The Orange Water and Sewer Authority and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have partnered to develop a new water reuse system that serves the university's chiller plant cooling towers, athletic fields, and toilet flushing at certain facilities. (see more awards at the link).

Do we want to save water at

Do we want to save water at the expense of our children? The hazard you have added to the list of thing that are dangerous in the artificial turf makes me cringe and wonder just by reading the subtitles. It really doesn’t go for a second thought. Any day I will pay the extra money needed to maintain a grass field rather than keep the child exposed to the kind of risk that the artificial turf poses? I for one am definitely not interested. 

I'll take grass any day over artifical turf

I would rather my children be playing on 100 percent natural grass than artificial turf which has lead in it. The cost and maintenance of artificial turf might be lower than that of grass but it isn't worth it.This is a very interesting topic regardless.




Dear fellows, I think we don't have to argue too much about this one. Synthetic Turf Council already gave their statement regarding the safety of artificial grass when it come to human health. According to my research, most manufacturers today no longer use lead in creating this synthetic yet valuable park improvement component.
Meaning to say, synthetic grass in San Diego are safe. Studies also showed that there are no specific complications with synthetic grass pointing out that these grasses are within safe levels and that these materials can be suitable for people’s use without any reports linking to serious health ailments. you can visit my site for more info: http://socalgreens.com/synthetic-lawn

Comment about Lead on Synthetic Turf

Hi Lyndsay,
I must make it clear that I am not neutral on this, I am a turf manufacturer, my company is Neo-Turf Systems , in Dalton, Ga. My personal opinion is that natural grass is better because of temperature, smell, appearance and because of, well, it’s natural!
I also believe that I have a business because in many scenarios, natural grass is not good enough, for example, when water or weather is a problem or when the usage is just too much (for many sports fields for example)
I don’t agree in saying that a turf manufacturer will make lead free on order only, in fact, any good yarn manufacturer as the ones the USA based turf manufacturers buy from, will not use lead for pigmentation. When a lead report says "non detected” is basically a formality that says that under the level of acceptance (usually there is a limit that depends on the precision of the instruments) the lead was not present, the levels used for lead in the USA are basically in the same ranges of the best standards in the world including all the European ones. Lead makes some pigments cheaper, and many years ago was used even for toys (in fact, some companies in China still do so) but there is not sense on using this for turf, and the proof of this mistake would be present there, on the field, for many years to be tested and retested for whoever wants (the test is under $ 500), just too risky even if someone thinks that saving money using lead makes sense. I don’t think any of my USA based competitors will try to do this, ever, and even if someone does, it just don’t make sense to take so much risk. My advice is to get a turf made locally and be safe.
About the other heavy metals, the standards measures most of them, and this are the same standards used in Europe. The yarns are made of Polyethylene (some other materials are used for some type of yarns but most of them are polyethylene) of the same grade of the one used for plastic films and bags for food packaging.
I am the owner of the company, I have small kids in Pre-K and First Grade, I would never make a material that is a hazard for them or any other kid, and I can say that I know almost all of my local competitors and they all are very good real people not just big companies.

I will be glad to go deeper on anything about this as this is my work and hobby, also, will be glad to answer any question about turf anyone may have, thanks.

Synthetic Turf

Well I am also pretty much with synthetic and artificial grass.It is really helpful and benefits a lot.In many sports grounds and parks,astro turf is being used there.For this it is really nice to have these.Astro turf needs really less maintenance to do and it is also saves our expenses.I am working in a ground staff and there is spread the turf that looks too good to have in and keep us easy to clean out or do others maintenance steps.Players are also looks pretty confident while playing this game. 

Artificial Lawn and Fake Grass

As the supply of household water is decreasing and water costs are soaring, artificial lawn and fake grass provides the best solutions for your garden area.Great post, synthetic grass really is great and makes such a difference to your garden. Especially as you live in an area where water is so precious synthetic grass is perfect for you