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Are artificial football pitches safe?

For many years, all-weather pitches have been used for a variety of sports including football, rugby, lacrosse and gaelic sports. These artificial playing surfaces often use rubber granules to make them weather-proof and to add shock absorption and traction. But are the rubber granules safe?

Most of the granules are made from scrap rubber tyres that are broken up into small pellets. We know that tyres contain some dangerous chemicals, so does using the granules make pitches dangerous to play on?  

A very low level of concern

ECHA first looked into this matter in 2017. The findings showed that the health concerns from playing on artificial surfaces are very low, because the concentrations of the chemicals of concern (including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, metals and plasticisers) measured in the granules have generally been very low. However, ECHA said that, for indoor pitches, the use should be restricted to ensure that the rubber granules can only contain low levels of the most dangerous substances .

Stay safe when you play

While ECHA's initial report found a very low risk, there are always things to do to reduce the risk even further: 

  • wash your hands after playing and before eating;
  • clean any cuts or scrapes;
  • take off your sports footwear and kit before going home; and 
  • of course - do not swallow the granules!

 

Since ECHA’s report was published in 2017, follow-up research has been done to look further into the potential need to restrict the levels of some of the chemicals even more – especially for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

In July 2018, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) proposed to lower the concentration limits for eight polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in rubber granules and mulches that are used on sports pitches, other sports facilities and playgrounds.

ECHA’s committees are now evaluating the proposal and will give their opinion to the European Commission by the end of 2019.


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