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Hazardous chemicals in synthetic turf materials and their bioaccessibility in digestive fluids


Many synthetic turf fields consist of not only artificial grass but also rubber granules that are used as infill. The public concerns about toxic chemicals possibly contained in either artificial (polyethylene) grass fibers or rubber granules have been escalating but are based on very limited information available to date. The aim of this research was to obtain data that will help assess potential health risks associated with chemical exposure. In this small-scale study, we collected seven samples of rubber granules and one sample of artificial grass fiber from synthetic turf fields at different ages of the fields. We analyzed these samples to determine the contents (maximum concentrations) of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and several metals (Zn, Cr, As, Cd, and Pb). We also analyzed these samples to determine their bioaccessible fractions of PAHs and metals in synthetic digestive fluids including saliva, gastric fluid, and intestinal fluid through a laboratory simulation technique. Our findings include: (1) rubber granules often, especially when the synthetic turf fields were newer, contained PAHs at levels above health-based soil standards. The levels of PAHs generally appear to decline as the field ages. However, the decay trend may be complicated by adding new rubber granules to compensate for the loss of the material. (2) PAHs contained in rubber granules had zero or near-zero bioaccessibility in the synthetic digestive fluids. (3) The zinc contents were found to far exceed the soil limit. (4) Except one sample with a moderate lead content of 53 p.p.m., the other samples had relatively low concentrations of lead (3.12–5.76 p.p.m.), according to soil standards. However, 24.7–44.2% of the lead in the rubber granules was bioaccessible in the synthetic gastric fluid. (5) The artificial grass fiber sample showed a chromium content of 3.93 p.p.m., and 34.6% and 54.0% bioaccessibility of lead in the synthetic gastric and intestinal fluids, respectively.

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We thank Dr. Brian Buckley and Ms. Elizabeth McCandlish for their assistance in the analysis of metals and Drs. Paul Lioy and Thomas Wainman for their inspiring discussions on public concerns related to the use of artificial turf. The study is funded in part by a gift from William and Ellen Crain and a gift from Mr. Patrick Barnard through the Foundation of UMDNJ. Dr. Zhang is in part supported by an NIEHS Center grant to Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (P30 ES05022).

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Correspondence to Junfeng (jim) Zhang.

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Zhang, J., Han, IK., Zhang, L. et al. Hazardous chemicals in synthetic turf materials and their bioaccessibility in digestive fluids. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 18, 600–607 (2008).

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