Artificial Turf: What Is It and Is It Safe for Our Kids?

Artificial turf is primarily a surface made of fake grass. Also referred to as artificial lawn, it is constructed to mimic the appearance of a real lawn. The “grass” is made of synthetic fibers or yarn which are typically polyethylene or polypropylene. There are high-quality artificial lawns that feel very much like real grass; they consist of many layers that include backing, cushioning, and even drainage layers and infill.

Because artificial turf is so low-maintenance; it has become more commonplace on athletic fields. But while they are durable and easier to maintain, many parents of young athletes are questioning their safety. To understand whether artificial turf is dangerous for our children, here are their pros and cons.

The Pros

Artificial turf looks and feels so close to real grass that many cannot tell it’s fake. Synthetic grass or synthetic turf has gained popularity for residential and commercial properties because they achieve the look of lush greenery but don’t come with the costs of maintaining a real lawn. After all, they don’t need trimming, watering, or fertilizer. And you don’t have to worry about getting them sufficient sunlight.

Artificial turf is advertised as allergen-free because fake grass cannot trigger allergies. They are said to be made from non-toxic materials and therefore, cannot introduce harmful chemicals to your children. They’re even supposed to be safer for kids. They do not develop depressions or holes that can trip up children in the way that real grass and soil can. Remember that natural grass doesn’t drain well, causing holes and dips that create puddles when it rains, or the lawn is watered. Real grass can also be quite slippery because of the soil that turns into mud.

The Cons

While artificial turf looks and feels like real grass, it indeed doesn’t smell like real grass. In fact, it emits an unpleasant odor on hot days. There have also been reports that kids’ shoes melt from the heat that artificial turfs give off. A report in the NY Daily News once reported artificial turf could heat up to 162 degrees even on a mild summer day.

To create the look and feel of real turf, artificial turf is also covered in crumb rubber which is supposed to resemble fake dirt. Crumb rubber is made up of recycled tires which can be toxic. Tires are made of both natural and synthetic rubber, along with carbon black which is a material made from petroleum. There are also chemical compounds which have been known to be carcinogens.

And while turf companies say there is no chance that kids will ingest the crumb rubber. However, children can easily touch the crumb rubber or drop a piece of fruit and pick it up. Players run and kick the turf, sending crumb-rubber particles flying. It can end up in their mouths, ears, and open cuts. And each time the ball hits the ground, it can send the crumbs up in the air, and our kids can inhale it.

While artificial grass itself is safe, the crumb rubber used to mimic dirt is not. Sometime in mid to late 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will conclude a peer-led study based on evidence to understand the potential health risks of crumb rubber better.