Irvine Considers Coir-Based Artificial Turf for Some Great Park Sports Fields: Injury Risks, Field Temperatures, and Water Use

This is the third 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 this month of July.

The previous article in this series focused on PFAS, other toxins, and health issue as they relate to using the coir-based artificial turf versus using natural grass turf. This article highlights the discussion at the Sustainability Commission on injury risks, field temperatures, and water use as related to artificial turf verses natural grass sports playing fields.

Contradictory Statements: Injury Risks, Field Temperatures, and Water Use

At the May 8th Sustainability Commission meeting, the following comments were made regarding injury risks such as impact injuries and infections. The comments on high field temperatures and water use needs for the proposed artificial turf versus natural grass sports fields  are also included here.

Speaking in Favor

Staff stated the following:

An NFL study stated that injuries were only slightly higher when playing fields are artificial turf instead of natural grass. Also, the NFL is comparing very well maintained grass fields to artificial turf fields. However, Irivne fields are not as well maintained, so the injury numbers would be different for Irvine sports fields.

Coir-based artificial turf fields are naturally cooler than crumb rubber-based fields, so this is an improvement. Also, the infill holds up to eight-times its weight in moisture that releases slowly. In addition,  two types of cooling systems will be used as part of the coir-based artificial turf fields: a piston-driven water spraying system along the sides of the fields and an evaporation cooling system that will be part of the playing field base. In addition, Staff estimated that, based on the data they had, water use would be 55%-75% lower for the artificial turf.

Also, Sports Committee Chair Ryan Bertoni stated that he would not have let his kids play on artificial turf if he thought it was unsafe.

Speaking in Opposition

Opposition speakers stated the following:

Dr. Chris McGuire pointed out that studies exist that show injury risks are up to 58% more likely when artificial turf is used instead of natural grass. In addition, Dr. McGuire pointed out that infections are more likely due to the biocides used on the artificial turf.

Also, Rika Gopinath of Beyond Pesticides’ Parks for a Sustainable Future Program brought up impact ratings. Gopinath encouraged everyone to look at GMax testing and impact ratings. She continued that some organizations are rejecting “organic infill” because it does not provide an adequate impact cushion for preventing concessions. Note: GMax is a surface hardness score assigned to an athletic field.

Also, in spite of Staff’s statement that coir-based artificial turf fields are naturally cooler than crumb rubber-based fields, the increase in temperature is still 30-50% over ambient temperatures. In addition, Dianne Woelke of Healthy Playing Fields pointed out that coir drys out easily, so it needs to be re-hydrated often. This brings up questions on how much water savings the coir-based artificial turf actually provides. It also brings up the question of whether or not Staff’s water saving assumption included the water that will be used by the field cooling system.

Another point is that grass fields can use recycled water. However, artificial turf fields must use water that is of drinkable quality. Note: Recycled water cost less than drinkable water and is less of an strain on overall water supply.

In addition, the heat island effect created by the artificial turf fields for nearby communities could be problematic.

The next article in this series will focus on the following: playing time, maintenance needs, and costs associated with artificial turf versus natural grass used for sports fields.