Why does the National Football League still neglect the benefits of having natural grass stadiums over artificial turf? Evidence shows that players have a higher rate of non contact lower extremity injuries when playing on artificial turf than playing on natural grass. Real grass also absorbs carbon dioxide, which releases oxygen into the atmosphere, resulting in more protection of the water supply. Despite the findings, the football community still debates this year in and year out.
A field needs to be correctly planned and built, frequently maintained by trained workers, and have usage that is restricted and limited in order to retain a good quality stand of natural grass. The natural grass cover on the field will deteriorate over time if any one of the three components is absent. Natural grass requires a lot of maintenance to keep the grass in the best shape possible for the athletes playing weekly on the surface. A maintenance schedule that includes mowing, fertilizer, watering, aeration, and overseeding for natural grass athletic fields will keep the grass healthy year-round and provide a secure playing surface throughout the season. Natural grass will become unsatisfactory and unsuitable for sports participation if the grass is not maintained properly. Some sports have moved their stadiums indoors to withstand harsh or unpredictable weather, but growing traditional grass indoors presents new difficulties. Artificial turf is a great option for interior environments because it does not need the usual growing conditions, such as sunlight or watering. The environmental problems resulting from the artificial turf installments are much more detrimental than paying for the extra maintenance to keep a grass field up to par. Several field studies have been carried out to ascertain the effects of tire chips and shreds used in civil engineering applications on the quality of surface water and groundwater. These investigations included sampling of existing sites, field trials, and follow-up monitoring for up to two years. Although their concentrations typically did not go above their individual maximum contamination levels (MCLs) for drinking water, Fe, Mn, Zn, and Al proved to be the most concerning contaminants overall, whereas organic contaminants were only present at trace levels. These findings call for additional field research with controls as they raise the possibility that groundwater or surface water may be impacted by scrap tire materials.
A study conducted in the article, “Determination of priority and other hazardous substances in football fields of synthetic turf by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry: A health and environmental concern,” states,
“Samples from fifteen football fields were analyzed, and the results revealed the presence of 24 of the 40 target compounds, including 14 of the 16 EPA PAHs, with total concentrations up to 50 μg g−1. Heavy metals such as Cd, Cr and Pb were also found. A partial transfer of organic compounds to the air and runoff water was also demonstrated. The analysis of rainwater collected directly from the football field showed the presence of a high number of the target compounds at concentrations reaching above 100 μg L−1. The environmental risk arising from the burning of crumb rubber tires has been assessed, as well, analyzing the crumb rubber, and the air and water in contact with this material, showing a substantial increase in both the number and concentration of the hazardous chemicals.”
“Another point to keep in mind is that these surfaces are periodically watered to maintain their physical properties. This type of practice, together with rainwater may favor the leaching of metals and hazardous organic compounds from the crumb rubber, whose final fate are sewage waters, groundwater and/or natural surface waters, thereby implying an environmental risk . On the other hand, volatile and semivolatile compounds may also be transferred to the air above the surfaces , especially in summer when the surfaces can reach very high temperatures being the hazardous chemicals more accessible to players by inhalation. In this way, children are the most potentially affected by playing on these surfaces, since their breathing rate is higher than adults and the entrance of potentially toxic substances in their organism may be easier, and the consequence more dangerous.”
Due to their ability to cleanse water and break down pollutants as they pass through the root zone, turf grasses and the soil microbes that coexist with them in turf environments help to reduce environmental contamination. Rainfall can become so acidic due to atmospheric pollution that it harms the ecology. However, passing rainwater through a healthy grass field can cut its acidity in half compared to its unfiltered original level. This enhances the quality of groundwater and lessens water body contamination in rivers and lakes. Artificial turf has also been found to trap and store carbon that may contribute to global warming. Grass fields sometimes have the potential to regenerate, which implies that they not only flourish but also get better over time. The field helps to maintain the environment in and around it as it develops stronger and more resilient, requiring less fertilizer and water. This includes improved soil, which benefits not just the grass plant system but also the field’s ecosystem as a whole.
The detrimental cautions to our environment should be at the top of the list when looking at changing the surfaces used in the National Football League. The information presented is not appealing to the viewers and followers of the league and certainly is not welcoming any parents to allow their children to start participating in this sport because of the environmental risks it creates.
The NFL views would be considered twisted in that the main focus perceived is installing artificial turf is to save as much money as possible but also make the fields somewhat suitable for the players. The amount of injuries suffered on these artificial turf surfaces and the environmental issues resulting should not be viewed as just a number the league looks at each year and hopes it lowers the next year.
Celeiro, M., Dagnac, T., & Llompart, M. (2018). Determination of priority and other hazardous substances in football fields of synthetic turf by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry: A health and environmental concern. Chemosphere, 195, 201–211. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2017.12.063
Cheng, H., Hu, Y., & Reinhard, M. (2014). Environmental and health impacts of artificial turf: a review. Environmental Science & Technology, 48(4), 2114–2129. https://doi.org/10.1021/es4044193