A diverse group of panelists debated the merits and drawbacks of artificial turf versus natural grass at the 2015 MACo Summer Conference on August 13. Artificial and synthetic turf athletic fields are an increasingly popular alternative to traditional grass fields. But while advocates praise their ability to be used nearly continuously and reduced maintenance costs, opponents have questioned the safety of certain synthetic field materials, including the commonly used filler material crumb rubber, which is made from recycled tires. The opponents allege that crumb rubber may be toxic to children.
(Jerad Minnick (standing) discusses natural grass while (seated left to right) Rick Anthony, Darren Gill, Jefferson Ghrist, and Marc Elrich listen)
FieldTurf Vice President of Marketing, Innovation, and Customer Service Darren Gill briefly outlined the constant use and maintenance advantages of artificial turf and argued that there was no scientific data showing that crumb rubber fields are a cancer causing agent. Besides citing various scientific studies, Gill also compared the amounts of various chemicals found in crumb rubber to the amounts found in common foods and other household products, noting that potential exposure to those chemicals were much higher in the food and household products.
Montgomery County Council Member Marc Elrich stated that the Montgomery County Council had banned the use of chrome crumb rubber in the County and expressed concern that children were inhaling lead and other toxics into their lungs. He argued that while no individual material in crumb rubber is at a “danger level”, there are no studies showing how those materials may act in concert. Elrich also noted that some of the materials could not just be carcinogenic but also endocrine disruptors (which can negatively affect children’s cells more readily than an adult’s cells). “There are a lot of reasons to show caution,” he concluded.
Natural Grass Advisory Group Lead Advisor Jerad Minnick discussed the advantages of natural grass and argued that with proper maintenance, grass fields can compete favorably with artificial turf fields. Citing what he termed a “perception vs. reality” issue with natural grass, Minnick pointed to award-winning and heavily used natural grass fields such as the one used in the Prince George’s County Stadium, which hosts the Bowie Baysox minor league baseball team. He explained that improved breeds of grass and maintenance technology can keep natural grass a viable option for county parks and recreation departments.
Anne Arundel County Department of Parks and Recreation Director Rick Anthony concluded the panel by discussing the County’s use of artificial turf fields. He stated that the County was neither pro-turf nor pro-grass but that it could not meet the recreational demands of its citizens without the use of artificial turf fields. Anthony noted that artificial turf fields have higher up-front costs but less net use costs per hour used than natural grass fields. Also, artificial turf may be better suited in smaller urban areas than grass. He also stated that the County has attracted several large tournament venues because of its artificial turf fields. However, Anthony noted that his department was also working on improving the maintenance process for the County’s natural grass fields and testing the use of Bermuda grass.
Maryland Delegate Jefferson Ghrist moderated this panel.