Lots of coaches and players love the benefits of artificial fields. There’s no practice time or games lost to muddy conditions, and the fields are easy to maintain. They require no pesticides or water. But increasingly, municipalities are raising questions about extremely high temperatures on the playing fields when the weather is hot and sunny.

Temperature Check

To understand just how hot the synthetic fields can get, a study was conducted in Riverside Park in Manhattan.  Carrying a thermometer,on a turf fields that’s used for a soccer camp the metrics found that in the shade it’s 86 degrees. But out in the center of the soccer field where kids are playing soccer, there were readings of 160.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat-Trapping Recycled Tires

Part of what’s trapping the heat are bits of ground-up recycled tires used by the manufacturers to cushion the turf. The Synthetic Turf Council is an industry group that represents manufacturers of the products. The group says using recycled tire rubber is a cost-effective way of making the surfaces more resilient. The group is aware of reports of 160-degree temperatures on the fields.

There have been no documented cases of people being injured. It’s more of a management issue according to this tester.

Heat Is Primary Concern

The New York City Health Department hired consultants to assess potential health risks associated with crumb-rubber turf fields. The report concludes that the risk of harm from exposure to hazardous chemicals such as lead in the rubber appears to be very low unless the chemicals are basically eaten.

According to the report, another possibility is that players may inhale chemicals that vaporize to form a gas. Health assessments suggest that the exposure levels are likely below a level of concern to human health. But these assessments use conservative estimates of exposure.

Since crumb-rubber turf absorbs and retains heat, the NYC Health Department report says heat is the primary health concern associated with playing on the fields. It says people can suffer dehydration, heatstroke and thermal burns at field temperatures above 115 degrees.

Based on these concerns, the New York City Parks Department has now decided to move away from using recycled-tire rubber in new turf fields and are actively looking for an alternative.

The industry has offered up a couple of options, including a sand-based fill. The Synthetic Turf Council says one company, Mondo, advertises that its Ecofill is “up to 50 percent cooler.” And another company that markets a product called “Cool Grass” synthetic yarn says it can reduce surface temperatures on synthetic turf by up to 35 percent.