Natural Grass vs Artificial Turf Fields


Top Reasons Why Shrewsbury Should Choose Natural Grass Instead of Artifical Turf at Shrewsbury High School

Sustainable Shrewsbury supports the School Committee’s goal of raising money to improve the Stadium Athletic Field at the Shrewsbury High School.

However, Artificial Turf, regardless of the infill, is not as cost-effective nor as low-maintenance as it is marketed to be, poses serious health and environmental concerns, and is not the preferred playing surface for the majority of athletes.

Therefore, Sustainable Shrewsbury is advocating for the safer and lower-cost alternative of Natural Grass Fields that are WELL-MAINTAINED & WELL-DRAINED and are managed Organically.

From financial, maintenance, health, environmental, and play-ability perspectives alike, WELL-MAINTAINED & WELL-DRAINED natural grass that is organically managed is a far better choice.

The primary goal of the project is Extended use.  A Well-Maintained Natural Grass field offers 3 times the extended use of our current Poorly-Maintained Natural Grass fields (300 vs 100 respectively).

Children’s Health: Who Regulates this stuff anyway?

Synthetic fields are subject to NO health or safety standards and are not regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as children’s products. We cannot rely on industry to decide a safe level of toxic exposure to our children and environment. The UMass Lowell’s TURI, Environmental and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI), Mount Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center, the EPA, and the CPSC have all admitted that synthetic turf fields cannot be described as safe. No long-term studies regarding the impact on children’s health or runoff have ever been conducted. Mass tort cases are already emerging.

Artificial Turf would increase our children’s exposure to toxic chemicals, while Natural Grass that is Organically Managed would provide opportunities to reduce or eliminate the use of toxic chemicals as a means to protect our children’s health and the environment.

Special concerns exist for children. Children are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemicals because their organ systems are developing rapidly and their detoxification mechanisms are immature. Children also breathe more air per unit of body weight than adults, and are likely to have more hand-to-mouth exposure to environmental contaminants than adults. For these reasons, it is particularly important to make careful choices about children’s exposures.

Exposures to chemicals from turf occurs through:

  • Inhalation of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and small particulates
  • Dermal contact and absorption through the skin or open wounds: Many of the components of turf may contain chemicals and even leach out of the product, increasing potential for dermal exposure upon contact.
  • Ingestion: Turf infill particles are very small and can be ingested as can chemicals that leach from turf and accumulate on hands.

Artificial turf is composed of several elements, including drainage materials, support and backing materials, synthetic fibers to imitate grass blades, and an infill that takes the place of soil. A number of concerns exist regarding chemicals in the artificial grass blades and infill.

According to Mount Sinai Hospital Children’s Environmental Health Center,

“All components of an artificial turf field (fiber blades, infill, backing, colorants, sealants, antimicrobials, and flame retardants) contain potential chemicals of concern and can leach from the product.”

Our Drinking Water:  We’ll be drinking what?

The Artificial turf field would be located on top of Shrewsbury’s Water Supply.

Shrewsbury high school and it’s playing fields are in Shrewsbury’s Aquifer Protection Overlay District.  The proposed turf field would be located in ZONE III of our Wellhead Protection Area for our public groundwater source.  ZONE III is:

  • a recharge area that contributes drinking water to our wells and is defined as the entire watershed upgradient of Zone II (the primary recharge area for our aquifer).
  • is the secondary recharge area from which surface and ground water drain into ZONE II (the primary recharge area for our aquifer).

A study by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection identified concerns related to a number of chemicals in stormwater runoff from artificial turf fields – they noted the potential for leaching of high levels of copper, cadmium, barium, manganese and lead in some cases.  Shrewsbury’s wells are located in an aquifer with a high vulnerability to contamination due to the absence of hydrogeologic barriers (i.e. clay) that can prevent contaminant migration.

Artificial Turf fields are routinely maintained with the following classes of chemicals:

  • Disinfectants
  • Biocides
  • Fungicides
  • Herbicides (ie. Roundup recommended in FieldTurf’s “Maintenance Guidelines”)
  • Anti-microbial spray
  • Anti-static spray
  • Paint
  • Paint remover
  • Solvents
  • De-icers

Cost: A Fake-Grass Gamble?

Natural grass is significantly cheaper to install and maintain. According to UMass Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI), 25-year and 50-year life cycle costs for synthetic turf are at least 2.5 times as large as those for natural grass.

Extended Use: For Whom?

Currently, SHS plays less than 100 events a year on the current field and that is because the current field is in poor condition and poorly drained.   A Well-maintained, Well-drained Natural Grass field can provide up to 300 events; therefore, improving the Natural Grass fields would provide TRIPLE the number of uses!  Therefore, Natural Grass can meet the Extended Use needs of SHS sports!  Artificial Turf could provide for even more Extended Use; however, that use would be beyond the needs of SHS and mainly benefit non-SHS groups.

A well-maintained natural grass field can meet the requirements of SHS events including the additional access for Boys & Girls SHS Soccer, SHS Field Hockey, and SHS Boy’s and Girl’s Lacrosse (note: excluding the proposed ‘nice-to-have’ non-SHS group rentals).

To identify the number of SHS events, take the Maximum Artificial Turf events of 720 and subtracted out the estimated Maximum Rental events of 440 to give the number of remaining events of 280 that could be used for SHS events.

  • Maximum Artificial Turf events = 720
  • Maximum estimated Rental events available = 440
  • Subtracting the “Maximum Rental events available” from the “Maximum Artificial Turf events” would provide the amount of events remaining for SHS events (720 – 440 = 280).
  • The remaining 280 events that would be for SHS use is under the Maximum of Well-Maintained Natural Turf events of 300 events.

In summary, as far as extended use, it would seem that when factoring in the non-SHS Rental Plan, the current SHS requirements of extended use would seem to be triple what it is today (300 events vs 100 events) and that a well-maintained natural grass field could meet those SHS extended use requirements.   Beyond the SHS extended use requirements are non-SHS extended use ‘nice-to-haves’ (i.e. outside groups) that are detailed in the Rental Plan.  If a natural grass field can meet the SHS extended use requirements, then the non-SHS extended use ‘nice-to-haves’ (and therefore rentals) are no longer required by the Turf Project to pay the recurring $400K synthetic turf replacement cost every decade.

Envirofill:  A Plastic coated Carcinogen?

Infill materials are not subject to any regulation either. While more natural infills could be less toxic than tire crumb, this does not mean their dust is safe for our waterways or for children to inhale. Envirofill contains 98% silica sand, a recognized carcinogen. Further, use of alternative infill does not negate the other concerns listed above.

From the Envirofill warranty, the Anticipated condition of ENVIROFILL after 16 years of use: On average across the field, a minimum of 70% of the product will remain coated.  This means that 30% is anticipated to have the coating wear off and expose the silica sand!

MRSA: What will be lurking in all of that Fake-Grass?

Synthetic turf qualifies for all five of the CDC’s MRSA risk factors; just the high risk of turf burn alone makes players 7 times more likely to contract MRSA.  Natural Grass, in contrast, naturally disinfects.

Shrewsbury is chosing not to have Envirofill infused with Microban.  Microban antimicrobial protection is infused into Envirofill during the manufacturing process to help prevent the growth of bacteria and microbes that can cause stains, odors, and product deterioration.  While that seems like a good choice, there is always an unexpected consequence.  By not having Microban, are we increasing the risk for harmful bacteria given that is what Microban was supposed to prevent?  Only about 15 fields out of the 100 or so fields with Envirofill don’t have Microban meaning that we are heading into uncharted territory.

“Coupled with Envirofill’s exclusive partnership with Microban®, the global leader in antimicrobial product protection, the 16-year warranty means that players, coaches, and families can rest easy knowing that their turf infill will endure and is protected from harmful bacteria, mold, and mildew.”
-Envirofill Press Release

While athletes are running, sliding or tackling, Envirofill with Microban® technology is constantly working to fight the growth of bacteria that causes mold, mildew, and odor – like a little bacteria ninja. Even below the surface where dark and damp conditions are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, Microban is working to prevent the growth of a broad spectrum of bacteria on the infill, and its effectiveness has been proven through ongoing standardized laboratory testing,
-Envirofill Blog



Heat:  How hot is too hot?

Synthetic fields are made of petroleum-based fibers that absorb heat, reaching extreme temperatures, regardless of infill or frequent watering. Athletes suffer from heat exhaustion and stroke, dehydration, burns, and heat blisters. As fields heat, noxious materials can be absorbed in gases that can become 10-20 times more toxic than the materials themselves. Though they are marketed as usable 24/7, synthetic turf fields are often prohibitively hot before sundown during the summer months.  Grass, in contrast, provides a cooling effect.

MIAA Heat Modification Policy – Effective July 2019

MIAA Heat Modification Guidance – May 2018

Synthetic Turf Council – Guidelines for Minimizing the Risk of Heat-Related Illness – November 2013

Environmentally Friendly:  Greenwashing at its best?

Each field is over 600,000 lbs of synthetic material. Out of the 180 fields removed in 2012, 90% of them went into landfills.4 Every 8 years, each plastic carpet must be shipped off, disposed of, and replaced – indefinitely. In light of the plastic bag bans, and other efforts to reduce waste, this is a step in the wrong direction.

Preference:  Is there anyone who doesn’t Prefer Natural Grass?

Most athletes dislike playing on artificial turf. From professional athletes down to the youth level, the majority of players regard artificial turf as a second-tier playing surface. This strong preference is based on increased post-game recovery time, risk of injury, and heat stroke on artificial turf, as well as a fundamental preference for playing the sport on grass. These issues led a group of international soccer players to file a lawsuit against FIFA for forcing them to play the 2015 Women’s World Cup on artificial turf.

I think most players prefer grass.  If you could play on a good grass surface, that’s always, I think, a little more fun for the players. But I don’t know, maybe one day you guys can ask (Patriots owner Robert) Kraft to put grass back in here for us players.”
Tom Brady,
New England Patriots Quarterback

At Ole Miss University,  the installation of the natural grass surface has been completed, replacing what had been an artificial turf field since 2009 and an AstroTurf field the six seasons prior to that.

“We think it’s the right thing to do for our program at many, many levels. Natural grass is the preferred playing surface of our players and our coaches. In the SEC West, us and Arkansas are the only two programs that have artificial turf. The rest have natural grass, so we think this is the right move.”
– Ross Bjork,
Athletic Director, Ole Miss University

The Baltimore ravens just replaced their artificial turf field with natural grass. The Ravens ditched the synthetic turf they had used for 13 years, and the initial reviews from players were overwhelmingly positive about the new surface.

“That grass was phenomenal,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “I’m very pro grass. My knees feel better after practice, and there was good traction all night.”

“I love the field,” running back Terrance West added. “It makes the cuts easier and I like it.”

Fifa president Gianni Infantino said that, on balance, he would rather Fifa invested the $4 billion set aside for football development over the next 10 years on natural surfaces.

For a lot more reasons, check out these lists from great resources:

10 Questions about Synthetic Turf

UMASS LOWELL TOXIC USE REDUCTION INSTITUTE (TURI) – Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI) – Artificial Turf Guide
TURI’s Artificial Turf Guide

SIERRA CLUBMaryland Sierra Club’s Public Health Committee efforts on Synthetic Turf


What are the alternatives to crumb rubber?
“The best alternative to crumb rubber is grass. There are architects around the country who design grass fields that are slightly elevated, that are properly drained, that are very resistant to drought, that require little or no pesticides – that is one option.  And the other option is that there are some newer synthetic materials that are coming along that appear to be less toxic, less hazardous than the crumb rubber.  The caveat there though is that most of those new substitutes have not really been very carefully tested for their safety so we really don’t know what they might contain.  I think grass remains the best option.”
– Dr. Philip Landrigan, MD,
Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai Hospital, NY

“They have not found levels of concern,
but that doesn’t mean it is the same as saying it is totally safe.
– Gina McCarthy, 
EPA Administrator



Grass Fields for Shrewsbury

  • Please Sign the NO Toxic Turf at SHS Petition to ask the Shrewsbury School Committee to invest in Organically Managed Natural Grass Fields instead of Artificial Turf Fields.


08/27/18 – Artificial Turf Fields (SHS & St Johns) – Request for Policies & Procedures related to Health, Environmental, and Financial issues

Annual Town Meeting (May 2017)



06/04/19 – [Concord] passes moritorium on synthetic turf on town property

12/19/18 – [WESTBOROUGH] Residents unhappy with changes to Westborough Athletic Fields

12/14/18 – [WESTBOROUGH] Rangers on Track: New athletic complex generates excitement

10/15/18 – Shrewsbury debuts new field with a win

08/24/18 – [HOPKINTON] New turf field in Hopkinton rolling along

06/21/18 – [WESTBOROUGH] After ground breaking, Rangers are indeed ‘on track’

06/10/18 – Officials break ground on new turf fields at Shrewsbury High School

06/08/18 – St. John’s High School breaks ground on new turf fields

05/08/18 – [HOPKINTON] Synthetic turf field gets late night nod in Hopkinton

04/09/18 – Saint John’s High School Breaking Ground on Two Artificial Turf Athletic Fields

01/27/18 – Campaign for the new Shrewsbury athletic fields seeks to close $650,000 funding gap

11/19/17 – St. John’s Pioneer Field to Have Field Turf, Lights by 2020

05/22/17 – Shrewsbury Town Meeting votes down opposition to artificial turf and keeps the plastic bag ban

05/17/17 – Shrewsbury town meeting keeps ban on plastic bags, keeps synthetic turf project on track

12/16/16 – The Argument: Should Shrewsbury proceed with the artificial turf project at the high school?

11/15/16 – Shrewsbury turf project to move ahead amid controversy

11/14/16 – Shrewsbury schools launch $1.8M fund drive for artificial turf


10/28/18 – Prenatal exposure to phthalates linked to language delays in children, study says

10/20/18 – More phthalates banned in children’s toys by US government

10/13/18 – Grass field at Portland’s Providence Park? It could happen

09/17/18 – 7 On Your Side: Montgomery County sports field washing away in rain

09/06/18 – 37 band members in Marshall County overwhelmed by heat, taken to hospital

08/28/18 – Parents push for warnings on playground surfaces, synthetic turf in extreme heat

04/29/18 – Natural grass is the only safe choice

09/25/17 – Victim shares her story after suffering from heat exhaustion at band competition

07/17/17 – Artificial turf temperatures too hot for young athletes? KSL investigates

05/17/17 – Natural grass wins turf battle at schools

03/18/17 – Does playing on artificial turf pose a health risk for your child?

02/02/17 – Turf Debate Heats Up Again; MVC Prepares to Review Plan

10/20/16 – Field Debate Intensifies as Both Sides Dig in Over Artificial Turf Proposal

04/07/16 –  Concord voters approve moratorium on artificial turf

03/24/16 – Littleton turf field debate deepens

03/14/16 – Turf field plans debated in Littleton

05/18/16 – Beware the Hired Guns

04/14/16 – Worries Mount Over Potential Link Between Artificial Turf And Cancer

06/25/15 – Crowd questions experts on crumb rubber at Concord-Carlisle High fields

05/09/15 – Toxic Turf? Movement Grows Against Synthetic Turf

01/29/15 – Trouble in the Turf: Lack of synthetic turf testing & maintenance puts athletes at risk

01/12/15 – Turf fields lead to turf war in Littleton

09/28/14 – How Taxpayers Get Fooled On The Cost Of An Artificial Turf Field


11/24/15 – E60: The Turf War

Julie Foudy of espnW investigates the health risks related to playing on synthetic fields.


10/08/14 – How Safe is the Artificial Turf on Your Child’s Sports Field?

The industry and others say the turf is safe, but one coach found a terrible coincidence between artificial turf and several soccer players.



08/28/18 – Parents push for warnings on playground surfaces, synthetic turf in extreme heat


01/29/15 – Trouble in the Turf: Lack of synthetic turf testing & maintenance puts athletes at risk



FEBRUARY 14th, 2018


SYS’s donation of $100,000 towards the installation of the turf field will be counted as a prepaid credit towards the future rental cost by SYS at a discounted rate of $75 per hour for the field, subject to field availability as determined by SPS.  The donation funds will also be counted as a prepaid credit towards the cost for use of field lights when used and cost for a field staff monitor, or other SPS staff when required by SPS for the supervision, access, or general caretaking of the field when rented by SYS.

NOVEMBER 9th, 2016

The Committee voted unanimously to approve Phase 1 of the Shrewsbury High School Athletic Campus Improvement Plan as detailed in the document entitled “Shrewsbury Track and Field Renovations – Schematic Cost Estimate” dated 10-6-16 and proceed to final design and preparation of construction documents -using synthetic turf carpet and shock pad materials as provided in our meeting documents and infill material will be Envirofill without Microban. We authorize related fundraising activities to begin immediately. If any new information regarding materials becomes available during the fundraising portion of the project, the School Committee can revisit this topic.

OCTOBER 19th, 2016

JUNE 15, 2016

The Committee voted unanimously to support the three priorities for improving the Shrewsbury High School athletic infrastructure, to establish a restricted gift account to receive donations for the improvement of the Shrewsbury High School athletic infrastructure, and to authorize the use of up to $65,000 from the Facilities Rental Fund to fund the design and other related professional services related to the improvement of the Shrewsbury High School athletic infrastructure.

Priority 1 – Stadium Turf Field  – Total = $1,225,550 (Turf = $780,000)

Priority 2 – Field Hockey / Lacrosse Field – Total = $1,574,800 (Turf = $850,000)

Priority 3 – Amenities Building and Seating – Total = $855,980

Total  – Priority 1-3 – Total = $3,656,330 (Turf = 1,630,000 or 45% of total cost)

Replacement cost: every 8 yrs at about 50% of original cost

  • 1 field = approx $400,000 every 8 yrs (or $50,000 / yr)
  • 2 fields = approx $800,000 every 8 yrs (or $100,000 / yr)

Project Timeline: Priority #1

Plan A – Aggressive


June Gain School Committee approval and authorization to move forward
July Secure a design firm and receive project renderings/concepts
July-August Begin seeking large dollar corporate donors via naming rights
September Begin public Capital Campaign seeking individual donors
December Complete design, permitting, and bid package


February Bid Project
June-August Construction – must coordinate with track re-surfacing project
September Begin use of field

Plan B – Alternate


June Gain School Committee approval and authorization to move forward
July Secure a design firm and receive project renderings/concepts
July-August Begin seeking large dollar corporate donors via naming rights
September Begin public Capital Campaign seeking individual donors
December Complete design, permitting, and bid package


January-December Continue fundraising effort
December Complete design, permitting, and bid package


June-August Construction – must coordinate with track re-surfacing project
September Begin use of field



There are currently more than 11,000 synthetic fields at schools and parks around the country. The fields, used by children and professional athletes alike, each typically contain between 20,000 to 30,000 ground-up tires. Mercury, benzene and arsenic are just a few of the potentially harmful chemicals they contain, and older turf fields have also been found to contain higher levels of lead, according to reports from the EPA and California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

The number of fields has more than doubled nationwide since 2009 – from 4,500 to 11,000 – and crumb rubber is used in 98 percent of them, according to the EPA and the Georgia-based Synthetic Turf Council, an industry group.

The average artificial turf field costs approximately $750,000.   The average all-weather field will save 1 million gallons of water per year, cost about $8,000 per year to maintain and can handle 1,500 hours of play per year, while a quality grass field is about $45,000 per year to maintain and can only handle about 300 hours of play per year.  The life of most artificial turf fields is seven to eight years, but often the owners hold onto them a few years longer beyond their life expectancy in order to get their investment back.

In the town of Swampscott’s proposed project, after 10 years, they would need to spend an additional $420,000 to replace the artificial turf field.  Their cost is also up $50,000 to pay for more expensive silica sand infill to the crumb rubber or crushed tire rubber styrene butadiene or the thermoplastic elastener discussed as an alternative substance.   Their Board of Health and the Selectmen appointed Athletic Field Advisory Committee approved the silica sand, which is not subject to releasing chemicals or retaining heat as much as crumb rubber.



EPA, CDC, CPSC’s Federal Research on Recycled Tire Crumbs Used on Playing Fields

On February 12, 2016 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched a multi-agency action plan to study key environmental human health questions.

The research is currently underway and the plan is to release a status report with the summary of findings by the end of 2016.

California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) – Synthetic Turf Studies

In June 2015, OEHHA committed under a contract with CalRecycle to conduct a new study on synthetic turf and potential human health impacts.

California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, under contract from CalRecycle, is conducting a comprehensive evaluation of tire crumb. This evaluation is being designed to deliver the kind of information states, communities and parents are looking for so they can make better informed decisions for their communities and their families. EPA, CPSC and other federal agencies are working with the California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to provide our expertise to assist with their evaluation of tire crumb.

Environment and Human Health, Inc. – Synthetic Turf

EHHI’s report on artificial turf calls attention to growing concerns about children’s exposures to ground-up rubber tires used as infill material in synthetic turf fields. Crumb rubber is used in artificial turf and as playground mulch, despite potential health hazards, especially under high temperatures.

Natural grass fields get a few degrees hotter than the outside air, but synthetic turf fields get 60 to 70 degrees hotter than the outside air. This excess heat makes these fields potentially very dangerous. Athletes can get dehydrated and even suffer heat stroke while playing on them. Small children are even at a higher risk.

The Yale chemical analysis (see below) found 12 carcinogens in the synthetic turf tested. High temperatures cause crumb rubber infill to outgas at a higher rate, which also poses an additional health risk to those who play on these fields in the summer.

In 2009, University of Washington assistant soccer coach Amy Griffin noticed abnormally high rates of cancer in athletes who played on synthetic turf. As of April 2016, she had counted 220 athletes with cancer. Of the 166 soccer players with cancer, 102 of them, or 61%, were goalkeepers. The only athletes in this informal count were those who knew to call Amy Griffin. There is still no government agency tracking cancers among athletes who have played on synthetic turf.

NBC News – Artificial Turf Debate

Coverage of the debate over the safety of crumb rubber, which is used in sports fields all over the country.  Check out all of the great top stories that NBC News has covered on the topic.

%d bloggers like this: