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Artificial grass is becoming more and more common with every passing year. Commonly referred to as “astroturf”, artificial grass was originally used for expensive indoor sports stadiums. Today that is still the most common use for artificial grass, but it is also commercially available to everyday consumers.

These days, many people are replacing their lawns with artificial grass. Maintaining a well-manicured lawn is a major headache that consumes time, money, effort, and lots and lots of water. People want to transition to something that is easier and more environmentally friendly. Artificial grass is certainly a convenient option for lawn replacement, but is it actually a good option? Is it great for our bodies and the environment, or is artificial grass toxic? Let’s take a look at the facts.

Is Artificial Grass Toxic?

Understanding the health impacts of artificial grass for putting is important to decide how and when to interact with it. Because of this, it is important to understand what, exactly, artificial grass is made of. There is a wide variety of specific compositions in the world of artificial grass, but generally speaking, the grass and the turf beneath it are made of two types of material: rubber and plastic.

On the face of it, those two ingredients don’t seem all that alarming. After all, plastic is in just about every object we interact with on a daily basis, and rubber is just that stuff used to make car tires. Right? Unfortunately, wrong. Many plastics contain harmful chemicals, and rubber is often tainted with heavy metals from the manufacturing process. Little is more harmful to the human body than the chemicals present in those heavy metals.

There have been some honest investigations into the toxicity present in artificial grasses. Two groups, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Ecology Center, have performed studies on artificial grass. Both found that the grass and the turf beneath it contained a startling amount of “fluorinated chemicals” known as PFAS.

PFAS, unlike other dangerous chemicals, don’t break down in the body. They build up over time, making them especially dangerous to children who’s bodies are still developing. The Environmental Protection Agency did its own investigation of artificial grasses, and they confirmed the presence of thousands of PFAS in every part of the turf. Is artificial grass toxic? Yes, but there’s more to keep on your radar than just that.

Harmful Rubber Granules

The presence of chemicals in grass is alarming, but at least the turf is fixed in place and avoidable. The bigger danger comes from tiny bits of rubber that make up the turf. Sometimes “turf” is nothing more than rubber granules piled together, but other times these granules break off of turf designed to look like real grass.

No matter how the rubber granules form, they all contain the same harmful PFAS as artificial grass. The granules are especially dangerous because they get into clothing and shoes and can easily make their way into your car or home. Children playing on astroturf often get covered in these granules and carry them back home. These granules can be extra dangerous if they are eaten, so they present a great risk to very small children. The best thing to do about these granules is to make sure to shake your clothes and dump out your shoes after being on artificial grass.

Can artificial turf cause cancer?

So, is artificial grass toxic? Yes. How great of a risk does its toxicity pose? Well, that remains to be seen. When the EPA did their investigation of artificial grasses, they confirmed the findings of PEER and the Ecology Center. What they didn’t do was a full risk-assessment to determine the true level of danger presented by the thousands of chemicals within artificial grass.

Some say that the EPA doesn’t need to do a risk assessment for artificial grass to be deemed an extreme danger and potentially cancerous. For decades researchers have linked exposure to PFAS with a higher risk for cancer. The chemicals present in heavy metals (the ones that eventually leak into rubber turf) are almost all known carcinogens.

None of this means that playing on artificial grass will definitely give you cancer or make you sick. What it does mean is that you should limit your exposure to artificial grass, and greatly limit children’s exposure. Make sure to clean your skin and hair, and to shake away any rubber granules, after spending some time on artificial grass. If you take the proper precautions, you’ll almost certainly be fine.