American researchers claim there is no connection between playing sports on crumb rubber turf and lymphoma. ‘But the possibility that artificial grass is carcinogenic is only one of the reasons why it might not be a good idea,’ says Bernd Leinauer, professor by special appointment at the Centre for Crop Systems Analysis.
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What do you think of the results of the American research?
‘That may well be the outcome but crumb rubber has only been on the market for 10 to 15 years. Often you need to do research for a longer period to get reliable results. There was a time when smoking was thought to be safe; it only turned out much later to cause huge damage to health. The rubber that is used in crumb rubber contains substances that have been identified as carcinogenic, so a correlation between artificial grass and getting cancer is quite possible. But I don’t know whether there is a causal link. It’s always good to be alert and perhaps you need to err on the side of caution sometimes. But there’s much more wrong with artificial grass — the medical issue is just one part of the story.’
What other issues are there?
‘Artificial grass has a relatively short lifespan. Especially with soccer, you notice the playing experience is not as good after 10 to 15 years compared to the start. Then the artificial surface has to be replaced. That leaves you with a huge pile of plastic that you have to dispose of, but artificial grass is very difficult to recycle. On top of that, artificial grass requires a lot of upkeep even though it’s marketed as low maintenance. Maintenance turns out to be a big expense. And then you have the high water usage. Especially in hotter regions such as Southern Europe or the south of the US, you need vast amounts of coolant water to keep the artificial pitches playable. So artificial grass is not necessarily a sustainable alternative to natural grass.’