Canada: Turf Wars – How Green Is Artificial Turf?

Kudos to those opposing the University of Toronto's plan to use artificial turf for its back campus field, in time for the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games. The opponents are right: there are good reasons for health and environmental concern about ripping up grass (muddy as it may be) and replacing it with artificial turf. But the law hasn't yet caught up. Toronto's Official Plan, for example, is dotted with mention of "green spaces", but it never addresses whether this includes fenced off areas of plastic and rubber turf. It seems unlikely that planners were contemplating artificial turf when they rhapsodized about their vision for the City: "The vision of the Plan is about creating an attractive and safe city ... – a city where people of all ages and abilities can enjoy a good quality of life. A city with:... clean air, land and water; green spaces of all sizes ..." and "The principles that follow for steering growth and change to some parts of the City, while protecting our neighbourhoods and green spaces from development pressures, are the first layer of a sound planning process for shaping the City's future." In this article, we provide an overview about artificial turf, then some information about what UofT proposes to use, followed by possible environmental and health concerns. Finally, we propose issues to consider when choosing between natural and artificial turf.

Background - artificial turf

Artificial turf has come a long way since the first artificial playing surface, Chemgrass, was marketed in 1964; it was essentially a short pile carpet with a foam backing. The natural grass field in Houston's Astrodome died when clear plastic panes of the retractable ceiling were painted black to reduce glare so that players could actually see the field; in 1966, this was replaced with Chemgrass, which was renamed AstroTurf. The product became popular for professional sports venues, but athletes complained that the turf was harder than natural surfaces, causing more injuries. In the 1990's many ballparks (including Houston's new stadium) converted to natural grass. Some have since switched back to newer brands of artificial turf. Some brands of artificial turf are made of a polyethylene-propylene material that is woven to look like blades of grass; this is held upright by an infill layer composed of recycled tires, small rubber particles (called crumb rubber), which may be mixed with silica (sand). Infill is spread to a depth of 2-3 inches over the surface of the field. It takes from 20,000 to 40,000 used tires to produce infill required to cover a football field. Crumb rubber particles can aerosolize and be inhaled, or tracked into homes on clothing and athletic equipment. A nuisance to athletes, it may be a health concern when children are exposed. The rubber may contain chemicals like ethylene-propylene, styrene-butadiene as well as vulcanizing agents, fillers, plasticizers , anti-oxidants, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, phthalates and volatile organic compounds (VOC). There is concern that as the crumb rubber deteriorates, it may release chemicals like arsenic, cadmium, lead and nickel (these substances are released during tire fires). A 2006 study by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Radium Hospital, Artificial turf pitches – an assessment of the health risks for football playersexamined health risks on turf used in indoor halls, which consist of artificial turf fiber and rubber granulates. It looked at exposure via inhalation, skin contact and ingestion, concluding that that the granulate used in many types of artificial turf contains chemicals that could harm human health, but in extremely low concentrations, and these are leached from the granulate in very small quantities, and air concentrations are very low. Total VOC were found at higher concentrations than generally found in homes, but the study concluded that the values found do not represent an elevated health risk, adding "... but our knowledge of this area is rather inadequate...". Although there is some evidence of a link between phthalate exposure and development of asthma and/or allergies, at this point – due to a lack of knowledge – a risk assessment was not possible. Environment & Human Health Inc.'s 2007 report Artificial Turf summarized a study that looked at the leaching potential of metals from tire crumb samples, as well as chemicals released from the crumbs. In one experiment, 25 chemicals were identified (with 72-99% certainty) in tire crumbs, as were metals (mainly zinc, but also selenium, lead and cadmium). Among the report's recommendations is to limit exposure to turf fields that contain rubber tire crumbs until more is known about human exposure issues, and that those allergic to latex should use caution when using fields or playgrounds that include these materials. The Swedish Chemicals Agency reported that although synthetic turf contains recycled tire rubber that may cause local environmental risks, the amount of substances like zinc and phenols that leach from the rubber granulate is small, so any environmental effects would likely be local, i.e., they won't reach watercourses. They recommend that water quality be analysed where the water is associated with these turf surfaces. They advise that the recycled tire rubber in the turf need not be replaced immediately, but should be replaced by alternatives, over the long term and where the material shows signs of breakdown (e.g., where it forms smaller particles, which are of greater risk). The Connecticut Department of Public Health fact sheet, Lead in Artificial Turf states that the only way to determine if artificial turf contains lead is to have the turf tested. Lead chromate has been used in pigments to colour nylon-based turf. Children playing on the field may be exposed to lead dust from worn turf fibres that get onto their hands or toys, then is ingested when the children put these into their mouths. New artificial turf products that contain fewer toxic chemicals are being developed. For example, Ecofill is advertised as being free from heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and as emitting much less heat than rubber-based products. GeoTurf apparently uses materials that are organic or 100% recyclable, and are lead-free and non-toxic.

What about UofT's artificial turf? UofT has posted general information about the turf it plans to use, noting that the fields will not contain any fill (including crumb rubber infill) or lead as a stabilizer for pigment (it's not clear if lead will be present for any other purpose). The turf appears likely to result in increased water runoff– a drainage system will divert regular runoff into the City's sewer system and a large cistern will be located beneath the field to handle excess stormwater. According to the UofT Project Planning Report, the turf material will be composed of knitted or tufted nylon, polypropylene or polyethylene, with a granular porous asphalt as sub-base and a shock pad under the turf. To meet world field hockey requirements, the turf surface will need to be watered during the Games – allowing for reduced friction and faster ball speed.

What are the issues [and what did we find]? Many types of artificial turf contain rubber materials, which may contain toxic chemicals, although generally at very low concentrations. Much of the literature relating to environmental and health impacts of artificial turf relates to the rubber component. We won't get into how much the artificial versus natural turf fields cost – both on a short-term and long-term basis. There are many analyses published, with a huge lack of consistency. Environmental concerns raised about artificial turf include:

  • Unlike with soil, which soaks up rainwater, turf will divert the water into runoff, which could reach groundwater and drinking water [natural surfaces absorb and use much of the precipitation; however, projects UofT's include extensive planning for dealing with stormwater drainage]
  • Real grass provides a cooling surface (so important in climate change); artificial turf heats up in sunlight and can contribute to increase in urban temperatures [this is a significant concern; in one study, the surface temperature of an artificial soccer and football field averaged 117 °F, with a high of 156-157 °F, while a nearby natural grass field's surface temperature averaged 78 °F (high 89 °F). The temperature of concrete was 94 °F and asphalt 110°F. Irrigation of artificial fields significantly decreased surface temperatures, but only for a few minutes]
  • It may be contaminated with harmful chemicals, including metals like lead [this depends on the turf type –e.g., rubber crumb turf may contain many chemicals; however the concentrations that leach out are not believed to be significant risks to the environment ....but there are gaps in the science]
  • Natural fields filter air/water pollutants; artificial ones don't. Artificial fields have a high net carbon loss, while a natural grass field typically has a net carbon gain.

And health concerns include:

  • Artificial turf heats up, contributing to heat stress [watering the turf can reduce the temperature for a short time, but athletes should be advised to stay hydrated]
  • There are more injuries on artificial turf [differences in injury rates in athletes playing on natural surfaces and crumb-rubber turf have not been consistently shown; artificial turf proponents argue that turf surfaces are more uniform than natural fields, and offer better traction and proper hardness levels ]
  • It may be a breeding ground for bacteria (e.g., methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus), as it cannot get rid of bacteria from sweat, blood, skin cells deposited during play [A causal relationship between artificial turf and staph infections has not been shown. Contact with either natural or artificial turf is an infection risk; the usual precautions for dealing with wounds and skin abrasions should be followed]
  • People allergic to latex (i.e., from rubber crumb) are at risk [There have been no reports of such allergy from contact with artificial turf]
  • Users are exposed to harmful chemicals [Data are lacking, but the low concentrations of these toxins is not believed to be a threat to human health]

Why use artificial turf? The Town of Richmond Hill highlights some benefits of artificial turf, now used on soccer fields in two of its parks:

  • longer playing season (e.g.,for the Town, from 21 to 38 weeks)
  • the surface is reliable – should reduce injuries
  • decreased maintenance costs (artificial turf should last 10 years, needing minimal care)
  • reduced need for watering/irrigation
  • no need for fertilizers that can get into water bodies.

In December 2012, the University of Western Ontario announced that it would build two artificial turf fields, noting that the natural grass fields are generally closed for at least 6 months a year, and unplayable conditions result in activities having to be cancelled or rescheduled. The nearly $4.5 million cost will be shared by the University (which will pay nearly $2.8 million) and modest increases in student fees. As well, some authors indicate that artificial turf does not require re-seeding/re-sodding, or use of pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, and (where applicable) needs fewer paint applications. (Note: In Ontario, the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes was banned in 2009; however, sports fields used to host certain sporting events may use pesticides that are banned for cosmetic use for short periods with written approval of the Minister of the Environment.) Is it a myth that artificial turf needs less maintenance than natural grass fields? Depending on the type of turf used, it may need the following:

  • replacement of infill materials, seam repairs;
  • irrigation (of unacceptably hot surfaces);
  • disinfectants (e.g., with infill systems to decrease incidence of infection);
  • sprays that decrease static cling and odours;
  • repair and maintenance of the drainage system; and
  • removal of accumulated organic matter, weeds and moss.

What about natural turf grasses? Granted, natural grass fields generally need lots of irrigation, mowing (resulting in hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions) and may become mucky messes during rainy seasons. However, they decrease pollution by absorbing carbon dioxide, and have a cooling effect on the surrounding area. And there are new developments in natural turf surfaces.

What's a reasonable approach? One of the goals of Ontario's industry-funded recycling program that handles the over 12 million used tires generated each year is to divert waste from landfills. One way of doing this is to use these in making artificial turf. However, as significant gaps in scientific knowledge about the possible health and environmental impacts of artificial turf remain, we suggest a precautionary approach to its use. While many health and environmental concerns relate to turf products that containing rubber crumb, newer and purportedly more "environmentally friendly" products should also be scrutinized carefully. In particular, those contemplating installation of artificial turf should consider the following:

  • Minimize use of artificial turf unless greenhouse gas emissions can be offset.
  • Ask manufacturers to disclose all ingredients in the turf; of particular concern are lead, bromine (e.g., from fire retardants) and zinc. As noted above, the UofT provides few details about materials that will be used in its artificial fields.
  • As some artificial turf products may be relatively new to the market, their true life span and care requirements may not be fully known.
  • Determine which chemicals will be used on natural fields versus those required on artificial ones.
  • Where field drainage is installed, ask about non-PVC pipe alternatives.
  • Consider end-of-life field management up front: can the turf be recycled?
  • The artificial turf will need to be replaced in 8-10 years
  • Will maintenance costs for the field increase? (e.g., mowing, pesticide or chemical use, fuel consumption, need for infill replacement). Also, factor in labour/training costs, equipment required, environmental/safety hazards and ultimate disposal costs.
  • Be cautious with costs calculations. Cost comparisons between natural and artificial turf abound in the literature; we noted many inconsistencies.
  • Where a field is near a watercourse, analyse water quality regularly
  • Test artificial turf for toxic chemicals, e.g., lead, bromine, zinc
  • What warranty do manufacturers/installers offer? What does it cover?
  • Minimize exposure of children to the turf, exercise caution in asthmatics and those who are latex-intolerant.

There is another way that artificial turf will impose costs on everyone else in the city: increasing stormwater runoff adds stress and cost to municipal wet weather management. And it will be even worse if that runoff is contaminated by plasticizers, metals, and other artificial components. And finally, who wants to picnic on fake grass?

Additional references These resources were particularly well-written: Claudio L. Synthetic turf – health debate takes root. Environmental Health Perspectives 2008 March;116(3):A116 – A122 Dickey P. Synthetic turf versus natural turf for playing fields. San Francisco Recreation & Parks. (undated) Simon R. Review of the Impacts of Crumb Rubber in Artificial Turf Applications. UC Berkeley laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability College of Engineering. 2010 February [Note: this and several other publications that appear to be relatively unbiased are posted on the Synthetic Turf Council website. There is also a Turfgrass Producers website, run by proponents of natural grass fields]

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Dianne Saxe
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.