Irvine Considers Coir-Based Artificial Turf for Some Great Park Sports Fields: PFAS, Toxins, and Health Issues

This is the second article in a five-part series focusing on an Irvine Staff proposal to use a new coir-based artificial turf product on some Great Park Sports fields. The series highlights the artificial turf discussion that occurred at the May 8th Sustainability Commission meeting. The May 8th discussion included the pros and cons of using the coir-based artificial turf product. It also included the pros and cons of artificial turf in general for sports fields. The Great Park Board and Irvine City Council will decide this issue, likely in July.

The first article in this series was a look at the process that Staff used to formulate its artificial turf proposal that Staff presented at the May 8th Sustainability Commission. This article highlights the discussion that occurred at this Sustainability Commission meeting regarding the following factors that might be associated with artificial turf, including coir-based artificial turf: PFAS (Forever Chemicals), other toxins, and health issues.

Contradictory Statements: PFAS, Toxins, and Health

At the May 8th Sustainability Commission meeting, the following comments were made regarding PFAS (Forever Chemicals),* other toxins, and health issues.

Speaking in Favor

Staff stated the following: The artificial turf product that the City of Irvine will purchase will be coir based, not crumb-rubber based.  The coir-based turf is a more environmentally sound product than the crumb-rubber based turf. In addition,  many artificial turf products contains PFAS (Forever Chemicals) as part of their composition. However, the manufacturer of this coir-based turf uses no PFAS in its product. PFAS poses health concerns and is, therefore, increasingly coming under regulation at the state and federal level. So, coir-based artificial turf is an improvement.

For years, synthetic turf has been decried as a significant source of PFAS, which is a broad class of manmade chemicals that persist in the environment for years. PFAS are chemical we encounter every day. …  According to the EPA, they are in the soil [that] food crops are grown in, the water fish we eat are caught in, the non-stick cookware our foods are prepared in, and many of the personal care items we use daily. … They are also in the air we breathe in and the water we drink. We cannot eliminate them, we can only minimize them as far as possible. … [The company that we are proposing to purchase the artificial turf from] uses no PFAS in its product.”Irvine Staff, May 8th Sustainability Commission meeting

In addition to Staff’s comments, Sports Committee Chair Ryan Bertoni stated that as a parent he would not have let his kids play on the artificial turf fields if he thought it was unsafe.

Speaking in Opposition

Many of the commenters cited information that showed the coir-based artificial turf does have PFAS associated with it. For example, Rika Gopinath of Beyond Pesticides’ Parks for a Sustainable Future Programs stated: “It is demonstrably false that there is an artificial grass turf option that does not contain PFAS.”

In addition, some commenters pointed out that other toxins are also often associated with artificial turf. Dr. Chris McGuire said these include UV stabilizers, plasticizes, flame retardants, heavy metals, phenol, alkylphenol, phthalate, bisphenols, biocides, and polycyclic aromatic compounds. Also, many of the commenters said that these toxic components end up in our air, water, and soil. Also, the heat island effect that artificial turf creates speeds up the break down of these toxins.

Dr. McGuire also stated that up to 8% of the plastic blades shed every year. The result is that microplastics end up in our city streets as well as drain into our soil and  water.

In addition, Dr. McGuire pointed out that artificial turf is detrimental to soil biome and, therefore, detrimental to a healthy environment. On a similar note to McGuire’s comment, Irvine resident Michelle Johnson asked how this would fit in with Irvine’s climate plan.

Johnson also stated that an Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) report on artificial turf, which will include the coir-based product, will be out soon.  She stated that Irvine should wait for this report before making any decisions.

Notes

*PFAS (Forever Chemicals)Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large, complex group of synthetic chemicals that have been used in consumer products around the world since about the 1950s. They are ingredients in various everyday products. … Over time, PFAS may leak into the soil, water, and air. … Because PFAS break down slowly, if at all, people and animals are repeatedly exposed to them, and blood levels of some PFAS can build up over time. … Multiple health effects associated with PFAS exposure have been identified and are supported by different scientific studies. One report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), found PFAS in the blood of 97% of Americans.National Institute for Environmental Health Science

The next article in this series will focus on the following: Injury risks, field temperatures, and water use associated with artificial turf, including coir-based artificial turf.