Testimony Before Maryland Senate Regarding the Dangers of Artificial Turf

Testimony Before the Maryland Senate

Budget and Taxation Committee

I am Jack Mitchell, speaking on behalf of members of the Patient, Consumer, and Public Health Coalition, which represents millions of patients, consumers, and public health advocates across the country.

We strongly support SB 0763, which would prohibit the use of state funds for artificial turf fields and playgrounds. At the House hearing on the companion bill, HB 505, I heard testimony from individuals who misrepresented the evidence regarding the safety of recycled tire material, other synthetic rubber, and other synthetic materials on playing fields and playgrounds. 

The bottom line is that these products have never been proven to be safe and there is no federal agency – not EPA, not Consumer Product Safety Commission, etc, who has ever concluded that they are safe. On the contrary, federal agencies have either ignored the issue or have reviewed existing research and found it to be inconclusive.

When our children’s health is involved, should we be saying artificial turf is OK as long as it hasn’t yet been proven to cause serious harms? Should the state of Maryland spend millions of dollars to install artificial turf fields and playgrounds that could be causing cancer, obesity, early puberty, asthma, and attention deficit disorder? I don’t think so.

These products are not proven safe.

If anyone tells you these products are safe, please ask if they have any financial or personal ties to companies that make or install artificial turf.

One of our members is the National Center for Health Research, and they have reviewed all the published studies and concluded that none of these products have been declared safe for constant exposures – in fact, there are no state or federal laws that require evidence of safety for long-term use. 

The EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission have been studying the risks, Unfortunately, their work has been delayed and limited by the lack of unbiased research about the risks of the products being sold. Independent researchers at Yale, Columbia University, and California’s environmental health agency have conducted excellent studies. This has resulted in some clear evidence of the harms of crumb rubber, but less information about other materials used in artificial turf. 

During the Trump Administration, we can’t expect that any federal agencies will produce an unbiased report on the topic. However, we know that artificial turf is made from chemicals that disrupt hormones, and some of those types of chemicals are banned by Federal law from toys and other products for young children. 

Chemicals banned from rubber duckies, teething toys, waterproof books, and other products used for a relatively short period of time by children should not be allowed in playing fields and playgrounds where children are exposed day after day, week after week, and year after year.

Overview of Proven Risks

The artificial turf industry and those who listen to them will tell you that there is no clear evidence that their fields caused any child to develop cancer. That is true, but keep in mind that it took decades to prove that smoking causes cancer, and that most people start smoking as teenagers but don’t get lung cancer until 40+ years later. Even when a smoker develops lung cancer, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the smoking caused the lung cancer – it only means it increased the chances of the smoker developing lunch cancer. 

With artificial turf, it could be decades before we can conclude what the exact risks are to children, but the weight of the evidence can be clear, even when the specific cause and effect can’t be proven. 

In addition to artificial grass fields, rubber playground materials used to cover the ground near slides, swings, and other playground equipment are made with the same kind of tire crumb and “virgin rubber” as athletic fields and have many of the same risks. Engineered wood fiber is a much safer alternative, which is also ADA-compliant, is as effective at softening any falls and has no dangerous chemicals.

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