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Playing it Safe on City Soccer Fields

2011 March 30

By John Senn

I love soccer. I’ve played since I was eight years old and was even able to go to the 2006 World Cup in Germany. But when I moved to New York City from Montana almost five years ago, not only did my vistas change from tall mountains to tall buildings, I also swapped grass soccer fields for turf fields, the norm for this area.

I was a little surprised to learn that the turf soccer fields that I played on every week—including during the summer when temperatures in Manhattan were well over 90 degrees—were among the hottest surfaces in the city because they absorbed and radiated heat more readily than other surfaces and could reach 160 degrees at field level. Working out at those temperatures, even for a short time, could easily lead to dehydration and heat exhaustion. (The Mayo Clinic has more information on how your body deals with extreme heat and how best to deal with it.)

Polluted air, an issue in the New York metropolitan area most of the year, only compounds the stress your body faces from working out in hot weather. Not only are your heart and lungs working harder, you’re breathing polluted air at an increased rate.

Breathing polluted air can make your eyes and nose burn. It can irritate your throat and make breathing difficult. In fact, pollutants like tiny airborne particles and ground level ozone can trigger respiratory problems, especially for people with asthma. Today, nearly 30 million adults and children in the United States have been diagnosed with asthma. Asthma sufferers can be severely affected by air pollution. Air pollution can also aggravate health problems for the elderly and others with heart or respiratory diseases.

When it’s hot out, check EPA’s AirNow website to monitor the air quality of your area by typing in your zip code. You’ll be able to see if any pollutants are at high levels for that day and if you or members of your family (some people are more sensitive to changes in air quality, especially young children, the elderly and people with asthma) should take any precautions before heading outside.

Most people wear shin guards as a precaution when taking the soccer field. Knowing the air quality before you head outside for a workout, especially when it’s hot out, is another way to make sure your workout does more good than harm.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. Stephen Colley permalink
    March 30, 2011

    If by the term “turf fields” you mean synthetic grass fields, in my opinion, they are not safe either. You already discovered one of the most observable features. They get too hot. By not engaging in photosynthesis, artificial turf gets hot, does not produce oxygen, does not absorb carbon dioxide, and does add to the problem of the urban heat island effect. The artificial turf industry also lobbied hard to keep the material from being classified as a children’s play toy. Why is that important? For one thing, some of the material consists of lead which is added to provide fade protection of the green color. Too bad our children have so much contact with the lawn when used in sports fields.

  2. Mark O'Dell permalink
    March 30, 2011

    As a high school soccer player playing mostly on real grass, I didn’t know or care much about the health and safety differences between grass and turf until recently. However, I’m excited to see the potential dangers of artificial turf raised, particularly in light of a recent California report focusing on pathogens and airborne VOCs, which according an Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment spokesman, “…didn’t identify any health concerns….” By focusing too narrowly on bacteria and VOC emissions into the air, the report misses additional dangers like overheating, or the lead contact that Stephen points out. I know the CPSC has looked into lead in turf as a product safety issue, and the overheating issue has been known for years without ever being addressed. In addition, large-scale use of turf in sports facilities affects local water drainage, not to mention low-level seepage of lead and other substances into the ground.
    Great article, thought definitely need to be given to the true costs and benefits of artificial turf.

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