Scientists at the University of Barcelona who analysed 217 water samples, have concluded that 15% of plastic pieces found in the samples were, in fact, synthetic turf yarns.
Between 2014 and 2021, the scientists analysed water samples collected within 1 km off the coast of Barcelona, in north-east Spain as well as from the Guadalquivir River in Seville, in the south-west of the country.
Interestingly, they focused their analysis on plastic pieces larger than 5 millimetres. In doing so, they excluded the smaller particles that ECHA defines as microplastics.
“We did this because it is harder to determine where they come from,” says William de Haan of the University of Barcelona. “Fibres that make up synthetic turf are usually very thin, long and curled, and green in colour, making them easy to identify.”
The concentration of synthetic turf fibres floating in the sea was as high as 213,200 fibres per square kilometre in some places.
On ECHA’s radar
It is estimated that, as of 2016, between 19 and 23 Mt plastics are released to aquatic environments annually. In an attempt to have this reduced by at least 400k tonnes by 2036, the European Union embarked on a programme to ban the placement onto the market of microplastics that are intentionally added to products.
Earlier this year, the European Union adopted a proposal submitted by its agency ECHA, that will see the sale of polymeric infill, amongst others, being banned from 2031 onwards.
Meanwhile, the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) has moved forward in investigating other forms of microplastics pollution. The findings by the University of Barcelona provide cold comfort to the industry and will certainly be used by ECHA to strengthen its case.
Sportsfields.info is not surprised by the intensity of the pollution by yarn fibres of 5 mm or more in length, recorded in Spain.
An industry insider recently told us about his assessment of a 60 mm SBR-field between 2019 and 2021. “During that period, the yarn length was reduced by 4 mm. Given the fact that the carpet had a face weight of 1600 gr times 7,700 m2 (the dimensions of the field), this was calculated as 821 kg within two years.”
He pointed out that over-using a field and extending its lifespan beyond what is reasonable accelerates the splitting of the yarn and wear of fields that are older than five years. He estimated that plastic loss in the years thereafter will increase by 15% annually.
This anecdotal evidence, as well as the scientific conclusions by the University of Barcelona, clearly show that, irrespective of its use or the design of the top layer, each synthetic turf surface should have risk management measures fitted to prevent the spread of (micro)plastics beyond the borders of the field.
This article, published in 2021, lists some of the possible solutions.
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