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Every year, large quantities of rubber granules from artificial turf fields are washed into the sea. It is not good for the environment, according to a research group at the Fram Centre.
Every year, large quantities of rubber granules from artificial turf fields are washed into the sea. It is not good for the environment, according to a research group at the Fram Centre.

Chemicals from rubber playgrounds and artificial turf pitches pollute the sea

Scientists find high incidence of chemicals in rubber particles from car tyres that are used in sports fields and playgrounds both indoors and outdoors.

Published

In Norway, rubber granules produced from discarded car tyres are often used for artificial turf pitches and to cover playgrounds and walkways. The reason is that they help the artificial turf to stand up, and that they provide a softer foundation that reduces injuries to the players.

In addition to rubber, the car tyres also contain a cocktail of chemicals such as fillers, stabilisers, pigments, oils, resins and a variety of other organic compounds and heavy metals that can leach into the environment.

Hazardous compounds

A new study conducted under the auspices of the Fram Centre shows that this type of rubber granules contain an extensive mixture of organic chemicals such as PAH, phthalates, benzothiazoles, bisphenols and heavy metals.

Shredded car tyre. Softer playgrounds, but not so great for the environment.
Shredded car tyre. Softer playgrounds, but not so great for the environment.

This cocktail of organic additives and metals leaks out into seawater from the rubber granules and this entails high concentrations of benzothiazoles and zinc, as well as detectable levels of PAHs and phenolic compounds in the leachate.

Phenol is an organic compound consisting of a benzene ring and a hydroxyl group. The substance is corrosive and toxic. It can under some circumstances become an acid.

Where does it end up?

"Previous studies have mainly investigated leaching from rubber granules in soil and freshwater," says Dr. Dorte Herzke from NILU. She is a co-project manager in the study, and co-author of the recently published scientific paper.

"But much of this rubber also ends up in coastal marine environments in Norway, thanks to tyre wear on roads, snow removed from artificial turf pitches and drains from washing machines where players' clothes have been washed," says Herzke.

Another co-author of the article, Dr. Claudia Halsband, from Akvaplan-niva, elaborates:

"Today we know that rubber from car tyres is one of the most significant contributors to microplastic pollution in the oceans. For this reason, we wanted to investigate whether rubber granules can contaminate seawater, and whether it is toxic for marine organisms.”, says Halsband.

Lisbet Sørensen at SINTEF Ocean analyses a rubber granules sample.
Lisbet Sørensen at SINTEF Ocean analyses a rubber granules sample.

"We were surprised by the high incidence of chemicals in these rubber particles that are used in sports and playgrounds both indoors and outdoors", says Herzke.

Tonnes of granules into the sea

65 tonnes of granules disappear annually from Norwegian turf fields on clothing and shoes, which corresponds to approximately 10,000 used car tyres.

“Most of this ends up in the sea because it is flushed away after machine washing”, says Herzke.

“3,200 tonnes disappear annually with regular use, mostly in connection with snow clearing and drains”.

During its effective lifetime, a car tyre loses approximately 1 kg of rubber onto the roads and into the wild.

Test of finds of granules that have ended up in the sea.
Test of finds of granules that have ended up in the sea.

Toxic at high concentrations

To understand the impact on marine organisms, the researchers exposed copepods - a type of small crustacean, typically 1-2 mm long - to a wide range of leachate concentrations diluted in seawater.

“The leaching was toxic at high concentrations, shown by high mortality of the copepods within a couple of days. However, very low concentrations did not lead to mortality; they seemed to be tolerated by the organisms, at least in the short term", says Halsband.

"The problem is that we do not currently know the concentration of particles that are derived from rubber granules and general tyre wear along the Norwegian coast. But we know that these particles behave like other microplastic particles in the environment; they will remain for many, many years and slowly degrade to smaller and smaller particles.”

We have to find alternatives

So what can or should be done to limit the amount of rubber granules in the sea?

"There are some measures we can take and ideas we have on how to prevent emissions of rubber granules from artificial turf fields”, says Claudia Halsband.

They could also be replaced with more environmentally friendly alternatives.

“But, it’s difficult to avoid tyre wear on the roads. To solve this, research, industry and the authorities need to keep on working on developing appropriate measures", concludes Claudia Halsband.

About the project:

The project has been a collaboration between NILU, Akvaplan-niva and SINTEF Ocean, and the study is funded by the Fram Centre's flagship Pollutants – effects on ecosystems and health.

References:

Halsband, et al. Car Tire Crumb Rubber: Does Leaching Produce a Toxic Chemical Cocktail in Coastal Marine Systems?, Frontiers in Environmental Science, 2020