There are a number of chemicals of concern that are commonly found in artificial grass/synthetic turf that I will go over in this article. I also will note which companies are free of these chemicals.
Chemicals of concern:
- Lead in the blades, luckily many companies claim to be lead-free now.
- Metals, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), plasticizers, black carbon, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in crumb rubber infill – this type of infill is optional.
- Flame retardants can be added, I’ve asked the listed companies about this.
- PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are used in the machinery that makes the turf, a few companies say they have eliminated this.
- Biocides, if marked antimicrobial, the turf likely has added antimicrobials – this could be in the grass, infill or cushioning.
- Microplastic pollution is an inevitable part of this kind of plastic product.
I will also talk about the materials that go into artificial grass – the blades, infill, and cushioning and which options are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
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Chemicals of Concern in Artificial Grass
In his article in the Washington Post, Stuart Shalat, a professor and director of the Division of Environmental Health at Georgia State University, points out, “various pigments are used to provide the green color of the blades. These can include lead or titanium for the white lines and still other metals for school logos on the field. (source)
Some brands now claim to be lead-free.
2. Crumb Rubber/Recycled Tire Infill
Crumb rubber infill is a very common type of infill and it contains a long list of hazardous chemicals. It contains various volatile organic compounds, metals such as lead, zinc and chromium, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), plasticizers, such as phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), and black carbon (Source, source and source)
The Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai strongly discourages the use of artificial turf where children play (Source).
Luckily there are other infill options to choose from that don’t contain these chemicals of concern.
3. Flame Retardants
Not all artificial grass contains flame retardants but some are adding flame retardant chemicals. Some brands add flame retardant additives during the yarn production process. This will allow the fibers to self-extinguish. (Source)
Sand infill is a natural alternative to chemical flame retardants that according to one company performs better. (Source)
The plastic backing and plastic blades have been found to contain PFAS, a highly persistent class of chemicals known as “forever chemicals”.
There were unexplained levels of fluorine-based compounds, which is an indicator of PFAS, in all eight samples of turf grass blades that were tested, said Jeff Gearhart of the Ecology Center, a nonprofit environmental research group. The samples of the blades that tested positive for fluorine were made by Shaw Industries and Turf Factory Direct and were tested in 2019. (Source and Source)
PFAS chemicals are used to help with the molding and extrusion of plastic, according to a 2005 paper from the Journal of Vinyl and Additive Technology. These fluorochemicals act as a kind of lubricant to help the plastic run through the extruders. (Source)
Artificial turf is often treated with biocides, says Stuart Shalat, a professor and director of the Division of Environmental Health in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University (Source). The infill material can also be coated with anti-microbials.
If it’s not listed as anti-microbial (and check the infill and padding as well) then it probably doesn’t contain anti-microbials.
And lastly but not surprisingly, the runoff from turf can contain microplastics (source).
Grass blades are made from polyethylene, polypropylene, and nylon. These materials themselves are not the source of offgassing of VOCs or of persistent chemicals (except for microplastics). It’s the additives that we need to take a close look at.
Infill is the material that is spread over the turf to provide support to the structure, stability to the blades, and cushioning.
1. Crumb rubber: The OG infill, crumb rubber is still popular because it’s cheap. It’s made from recycled tires which is SBR (styrene-butadiene rubber) and it contains a number of chemicals of high concern listed above.
2. Sand and plastic-coated sand: The most popular brand name is Durafill/Envirofill which is 99.6 silicone dioxide, iron oxide and an acrylic coating. The coating is antimicrobial and listed as containing Microban. Hydrochill is another coated sand with a get coating.
It is also possible to use natural silica sand that is not coated in plastic. This silica sand does not contain any plastic coatings. It is a non-agglomerated silica sand that is rounded in order to “move” when in contact with the athlete.
3. Zeolite: Zeolite is a natural mineral, however, it is harmful to breathe in when in dust form, so look for substantial-sized particles that are dust free.
4. Natural organic infill: Other natural infill options include cork, walnut shells, or coconut husks.
The underlayment or shock pad adds cushioning and shock absorption. This layer is made of polyurethane foam, SBR rubber, polyethylene, or polypropylene, and it is used to create a more cushioned and shock-absorbent surface.
Polyurethane, especially when made out of many little bits of recycled foam and rebonded with glue has some offgassing of VOCs. SBR rubber in any form is also high in odor/VOCs and PAHS. I would avoid these two myself.
Polyethylene and polypropylene are generally safe for those sensitive to offgassing. It’s likely that others labeled only as “closed cell foam” would have little to no offgassing.
Sometimes you might find EVA backed turf, especially the type that comes in tiles. This is low in offgassing, around or a little lower than polyurethane.
Putting Green Turf
- Contains no lead or other heavy metals, they say.
- Contains no lead or heavy metals, they say.
- They offer polypropylene backing (EnviroFlow) which is what I would go with.
- However, they do claim their turf is anti-microbial.
Bella Turf – Canada
- Certified lead-free – contains no detectable traces of lead and heavy metals.
- They do not sell or use crumb rubber products and infills.
- They offer zeolite as an infill.
- Their backings all look to be safe in terms of offgassing.
- The Paw Pro and Multi Play use a silver ion additive to make it anti-microbial. All of the other grass lines do not have anti-bacterial properties.
- The non anti-bacterial grass lines are free of PFAS. The engineered infill called Wonderfill is also free of PFAS.
- None of their product lines are flame retardant.
- They professionally test all of their products to make sure they are 100% lead and latex-free (with testing certificates on the website).
- The only padding I see listed on their website is a rebonded polyurethane, unfortunately.
- 100% lead-free.
- They do not stock crumb rubber infill.
SYNLawn – Canada
- SYNLawn has been using renewable resources like soy and sugar cane since 2008 to create bio-based artificial grass.
- However, SYNLawn Pet Platinum contains an anti-microbial coating.
- Made without PFAS (they say).
- All fibers have fewer than 50 parts per million (ppm) of lead, less than the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s limits for children’s toys (100 ppm) and household paints (90 ppm).
- They offer alternatives to crumb rubber infill.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.