NCHR Letter to Mayor Bowser Regarding Toxic Artificial Turf

Dear Mayor Bowser:

I am writing as the president of the National Center for Health Research and as a D.C. employer to express our strong concerns about the dangers of artificial turf that is being widely used on school play grounds, athletic fields, and parks.

Like most people, I thought play surfaces made of recycled tires and other synthetic materials seemed like a great idea – until I looked at the scientific evidence.  Tires are not made only of a natural rubber product; instead, they contain chemicals that are known to interfere with sex hormones and to cause cancer.  These chemicals get on the skin and into the air as well as in children’s and athlete’s mouths and lungs.  The risks are clear.  There is no credible evidence to support the claims of safety and longevity made by the companies that make and sell these products.  The safety of these products is not regulated by any federal agencies, and since they don’t need to prove they are safe, the companies are free to sell their products and make unsubstantiated claims.

As our mayor, I urge you to safeguard our children and athletes by requiring safer athletic fields and playgrounds.  At this point, there are no synthetic materials that are proven to be as safe as natural grass.

Research indicates that crumb rubber and other synthetic turf materials are made with carcinogenic materials and can also exacerbate asthma and other health problems.  In addition, they pose safety issues that are more obvious:

  • they can cause very serious abrasions called “turf burns”
  • they can cause concussions
  • MRSA and other dangerous bacteria can grow in these materials, causing life-threatening infections
  • When the temperatures climb in the spring, summer and fall, direct sun can heat up these materials above 145 degrees, which can cause 2nd and 3rd degree burns

Of course, grass fields and other natural products have risks as well, but there is growing evidence that they are considerably safer than synthetic materials.  And, natural grass helps cool the city, which is also very important to all its residents.

We were glad to hear that Councilwoman Cheh has championed a moratorium on crumb rubber playgrounds, but unfortunately that would not go into effect until October 1.  And, it is our understanding that efforts are underway to undermine that moratorium by using other synthetic turf products that have the same or similar risks to crumb rubber.  We urge you to support the letter and spirit of the law by banning any new installations of any tire materials (including “poured in place” (PIP) products as well as any other synthetic surfaces that are not proven to be safe.

We also urge you to close any synthetic turf fields that fail G-max tests, because they pose serious risks of head injury or death. In addition, when the temperature is above 75 degrees Fahrenheit on a sunny day, the surface temperature of fields and playgrounds made of synthetic materials should be measured and those fields and playgrounds should be closed if the temperature is above 120 degrees.

Our footnoted summary of some of the key issues is available online.  I’d welcome the opportunity to talk to you and your staff about this very important issue.  Our children’s lives are at stake.


Diana Zuckerman, PhD
National Center for Health Research
1001 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20036