Synthetic pitches: the expert assessments currently available conclude that the risks to health are negligible
In recent years, the increasing use of tyre granulates for sports pitches and playgrounds has raised concerns about their potential impact on health and the environment. ANSES has analysed the studies and expert assessments currently available on this topic and reports the main findings regarding the potential risks associated with the use or installation of synthetic pitches. The existing studies conclude that the health risks are of little concern, but point to potential risks to the environment. However, ANSES highlights uncertainties related to methodological limitations and a lack of data. The Agency is therefore indicating a number of top-priority areas of research which would consolidate the data and supplement the risk assessments already available at international level.
Recycling used tyres in the form of granulates for the production of synthetic floors and coatings is one of the main ways of reusing tyre waste. These synthetic surfaces, which are increasingly used for sports pitches and indoor or outdoor playgrounds, have raised concerns in recent years about their potential impact on health and the environment. This context led the Agency to conduct a review of the available knowledge on the subject. The data collected concern the chemicals used in the composition of these surfaces, as well as for their production, installation and maintenance.
The available studies do not demonstrate any health risks, but point to potential risks to the environment
The Agency identified more than 50 studies and expert assessments published at international level on the risks associated with synthetic pitches, in particular by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). This work mainly concerns synthetic sports pitches.
Most studies conclude that there is a negligible health risk to athletes and children. Existing epidemiological analyses show no evidence of an increase in the carcinogenic risk – particularly of lymphomas and leukaemia – associated with the use or installation of synthetic sports pitches, mainly due to the low concentrations of carcinogenic substances emitted or released by tyre granulates.
However, the available data point to the existence of potential environmental risks associated with the transfer of chemicals (zinc, phenols, etc.) into environmental media via soil and rainwater drainage systems. ANSES therefore recommends developing methodological information to support environmental risk assessments, which should be carried out locally before laying this type of surface.
ANSES is also supporting the proposal to restrict levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in rubber granulates, currently being examined under the European REACh Regulation, in order to ensure the lowest possible concentrations of these compounds of concern.
ANSES proposes research priorities to supplement the risk assessments already available
During its analysis work, ANSES identified certain methodological weaknesses in the available data. For example, they do not sufficiently take into account the variability of the composition of synthetic pitches. Uncertainties therefore remain regarding the potential health risks associated with these materials, particularly in relation to emissions of volatile compounds. The Agency therefore recommends carrying out a broader analysis of the pollutants contained in and emitted by these granulates, especially with regard to the dust likely to be emitted, mainly to determine the occupational exposures.
ANSES also recommends prioritising the acquisition of more data on the specific uses of tyre granulates in playgrounds. These uses, which have so far been poorly documented, involve vulnerable populations and concern other products such as glues, dyes, binders and smoothing agents.
ANSES further recommends improving knowledge of levels of exposure to synthetic pitches inside buildings and investigating the thermal risk posed by these coatings, which can generate large amounts of heat in an urban environment.
Moreover, the Agency stresses that these research priorities could be re-assessed in light of the work currently being carried out in Europe and the United States on the use of granulates in artificial turf pitches.
More generally, this work of analysing data on the risks associated with synthetic coatings incorporating recycled tyre granulates – which is consistent with the challenge of moving towards a more resource-efficient economy – raises the question of how to identify negative externalities (including risks for humans and the environment) to be adopted when developing a circular economy. The Agency intends to include this issue in discussions on its future expert assessment work.