In the past few months, EU Institutions have demonstrated a growing interest for potential health issues linked to artificial turf used for sport facilities. It started in June 2016 with the European Commission asking the European Chemicals agency (ECHA) to investigate on the rubber granulates used as infill for artificial turf with the objective to measure the risk of health issues linked to the use of recycled rubber granulate. Published on 28 February 2017, the ECHA report will serve as a basis for the Commission to decide whether further regulation or restriction is needed. Recently, several questions have been raised on this topic by Dutch media, leading to a national public debate as well as parliamentary questions at the EU level.
In its report, the ECHA has concluded that, based on the information currently available, there is at most “a very low level of concern” regarding the recycled rubber granules. The ECHA suggests that several actions should be taken, namely:
• Changes to the REACH regulation to ensure that rubber granules have low levels of hazardous substances
• Measuring of existing outdoor and indoor fields and make this information available in an understandable manner
• European sports and football associations and clubs should work with the relevant producers to ensure the information regarding safety is communicated clearly
• Owners and operations of existing indoor fields should ensure adequate ventilation
The origin of debates on artificial turf can be found in the athletes’ perception of playing on these surfaces. Indeed, several studies illustrated the negative perception that professional athletes have towards artificial turf including the feeling to be more exposed to injuries than on natural grass despite the fact that this statement has not been scientifically confirmed so far.
Another contradictory aspect is nowadays central in EU discussions: the question of the rubber granulates used as infill for artificial turf. Several research projects have been launched on the topic including a large multi-agency research plan currently underway in the US. The final findings of this plan are expected later this year. A status report in December 2016 did point out serious gaps in our current knowledge regarding the potential health effects of rubber granulate. Therefore, it is a good development that the ECHA is now publishing its findings.
In Europe, the main concerns regarding artificial turf developed in the Netherlands following two documentary broadcasts by Dutch national media. The first investigation led the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) to review its guideline on the subject via a short study in December 2016, maintaining that playing on artificial turf did not pose any health risks to human but recommending to tighten norms regarding the use of rubber to adhere to the consumer-product norms for PAHs. These conclusions have been questioned by another documentary, as scientists raised new questions regarding the current risk model of the RIVM. In addition, a study from the VU (Free University Amsterdam), raised further questions regarding the potential release of substances from the rubber granulate.
A final aspect to be mentioned is the difference between artificial turf in indoor halls and outdoor circumstances. A Finnish study from 2015 showed that the indoor air of all studied arenas was reported to cause some harm, in particular irritation to the respiratory tract, eyes and skin. Thus, indoor turf might require different regulations. These results were also mentioned in the now published ECHA report.
The EOC EU Office will closely follow the future developments on this subject. More information regarding the different studies and the timeline for the upcoming weeks can be found by partners of the office on the intranet.
RIVM December 2016 Risk Evaluation (in Dutch)