Synthetic turf pitches with rubber granulate infill: are there health risks for people playing sports on such pitches?



ABSTRACT - The presence of carcinogenic substances in rubber granulate made from old car tyres raised concerns that the use of this granulate as infill on synthetic turf pitches may cause leukaemia and lymphoma in young football players and goalkeepers. Limitations in a number of prior studies on the topic casted doubts on their conclusion that it was safe to play sports on such pitches. Rubber granulate samples from 100 Dutch synthetic turf pitches were analysed for 45 (all samples) or 79 substances (a subset).

A subset of samples was additionally analysed for migration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phthalates and metals into sweat and the gastrointestinal tract, and for evaporation of volatile substances into air. Exposure scenarios were developed to estimate the exposure of amateur football players via the oral, dermal and inhalation route to the most hazardous substances in rubber granulate. Risks to human health were assessed by comparing toxicological reference values for these substances with the exposure estimates.

A number of carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic substances were present in rubber granulate used on Dutch pitches. No concern was, however, identified for phthalates, benzothiazoles, bisphenol A and the metals cadmium, cobalt and lead, as their exposures were below the levels associated with adverse effects on health. PAHs appeared to be the substances of highest concern, but even they present no appreciable health risk with exposures resulting in additional cancer risks at or below the negligible risk level of one in a million.

Our findings for a representative number of Dutch pitches are consistent with those of prior and contemporary studies observing no elevated health risk from playing sports on synthetic turf pitches with recycled rubber granulate. Based on current evidence, there is no reason to advise people against playing sports on such pitches.

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