Mounting evidence for problematic synthetic turf rubber crumb
Action to address the installation and management of synthetic turf fields in NSW represents a valuable opportunity to curb the spread of microplastics in our waterways. Revelations of environmental impacts and significant research gaps in the recent NSW Chief Scientist and Engineers Report (CSE) Synthetic Turf in Public Spaces (2023) have highlighted these surfaces as a critical concern. The focus on synthetic turf rubber crumb is not just a national issue. Internationally, evidence on the toxicity of rubber crumb and its mobility in the environment has been growing as well. If you would like to read more on this research, click below.
Open letter to The New South Wales Government
We have written a letter to Hon. Penny Sharpe, NSW Minister for Environment, and Hon. Paul Scully, NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces (which you can download below), which urged them to go beyond the ‘learn and adapt’ approach recommended by the Chief Scientist. We believe this will inevitably result in the establishment of more such fields and accumulating future problems for human and environmental health. There is sufficient evidence now to be alarmed and we need to take precautionary action.
AUSMAP's research on synthetic turf rubber crumb
We have been expanding upon our program to research the loss of rubber crumb and synthetic grass from synthetic turf fields. This work began in collaboration with ReefClean to assess the rubber crumb loss near the Great Barrier Reef and the publication of the Rubber Crumb Impact Report. During our ongoing efforts, it has become apparent that sustained inputs of synthetic grass and rubber crumb are commonplace in both freshwater and coastal samples in NSW, with potentially significant environmental implications.
Serious microplastic particle lost from a Sydney synthetic turf field
More recently, we have been working with a Council in Sydney’s north-west on quantifying net microplastic loss from a synthetic turf field and the efficacy of stormwater pit traps.
Sampling of four pit-baskets (200-micron mesh) and downstream stormwater nets under wet and dry conditions were used to assess the performance of stormwater mitigation measures. In addition, walk-off trials were conducted to determine microplastic loss on field users.
Preliminary results have highlighted that up to 70,000 particles of rubber crumb and over 50,000 particles of synthetic grass have been captured in a single trap sample. Downstream sampling and brush-off zone trials with community stakeholders are currently underway to assess other avenues of microplastic loss but have shown relatively lower loads.
Key findings from this investigation highlight 'extreme microplastic loss' from this surface that would enter the environment unabated without the presence of stormwater mitigation traps. The impact of such mitigation (and the varying approaches) is yet to be reported - and invariably, to date, are not common practice. In summary, the results of our research, concessions of ‘significant’ knowledge gaps and mounting community concern, signify that the CSE’s decision to adopt an accelerated ‘learn and adapt’ approach to synthetic fields in NSW is insufficient.
Action on Rubber Crumb in NSW
In our open letter to the government, we have asked the NSW government to take regulatory action to:
Impose a 5-year moratorium on new planning and approvals for synthetic grass fields.
Subject existing fields to pollution mitigation measures as soon as possible.
Urgently develop end-of-life pathways (recycling?) for fields that will not cause damage (our case study identifies the only one in Australia, which is 10 years old and with Australian conditions mean they have shorter lifespans than overseas cases).
Invest substantial effort into how to improve drainage and condition of natural grass fields to avoid synthetic grass.
Continue a research program including epidemiological or health risk studies, heat impacts, environmental impacts, chemical composition, stormwater discharge, microplastic loss etc.
We are urging the government to follow stringent regulation in line with overseas developments, and in particular to follow the European Union’s recent decision to ban intentionally added microplastics including rubber crumb following a transitional 8-year period.
What can you do?
If you want to learn more about the rubber crumb and synthetic grass problem, you can view take a few actions:
Watch our recent webinar on the issue and dig into the following fact sheet we put together.
Reach out to your local MP to express your concern, you are free to add any of our resources, including our letter to the NSW Government, into your email or letter.
Become a regular supporter of AUSMAP's research. AUSMAP urgently needs funds to continue this research. As you can imagine, counting thousands of pieces of rubber crumb takes a lot of resources! Becoming a regular contributor allows us to make faster progress on this research and allows us to continue the fight against microplastics like rubber crumb and synthetic grass.