State-Sponsored Artificial Turf Study Released

Air quality inside Shenkman facility OK’d.

The turf field at UConn’s Shenkman Training Center, one of five locations included in a state-sponsored study of the safety of artificial athletic fields, poses no danger to players or visitors to the facility, according to a joint report released July 30 by the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Public Health.

“The report indicates that the facility’s air poses no significant or unusual health risk to those using the athletic field, even under a simulated worse-case scenario,” a situation where the facilities doors are closed and the ventilation system is off, said Terri Dominguez, manager of UConn’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety.

The study was undertaken by the state departments of environmental protection and public health because questions have been raised about health risks associated with playing sports on artificial turf fields, which are often made with rubber material that can release compounds into the air.

The DEP/DPH tests at UConn and at four outdoor high school fields were conducted in July 2009.

“The use of outdoor and indoor artificial turf fields is not associated with elevated health risks. Results indicate cancer risks slightly above de minimis levels for all scenarios evaluated with children playing at the indoor facility having the highest exposure and risk. However, these risks are well within typical risk levels in the community from ambient pollution sources and are below target risks associated with many air toxics regulatory programs,” the report concluded.

“Chronic non-cancer risks were not elevated above a Hazard Index of 1. The Hazard Index for acute risk was also not elevated above 1,” the report says. “Based upon these findings, outdoor and indoor artificial turf fields are not associated with elevated health risks from the inhalation of volatile or particle-bound chemicals.”

Under normal circumstances, the facility’s doors are open and the ventilation system is on when the building is in use. Dominguez said that in response to the report, “the University will continue to make sure the building is always well ventilated to keep air quality where it needs to be, particularly for younger people.”

The main compound contributing to the Hazard Index was benzothiazole, a chemical associated with the rubber used to make the field. The report says there is uncertainty regarding the potential for this chemical, among others, to “create a slight irritation response in sensitive individuals playing indoors.”

Originally built in 2006, Shenkman and the adjoining Burton Family Football Complex were the first athletic facilities in the NCAA to receive LEED Silver certification – which certifies how environmentally responsible and energy efficient a structure is.

According to Richard Miller, director of UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy, the buildings are 35 to 40 percent more energy and water efficient than required by conventional building codes, and the Shenkman Center has highly-efficient infra-red radiant heating from the ceiling that directs heat to the playing surface, not throughout the entire interior space. The structural steel and turf itself are considered recycled content building materials – the turf uses ground up rubber from recycled sneakers and tires as part of the infill material.