British Columbia

Group wants Vancouver to axe artificial turf fields after lab test confirms lead

A laboratory test revealing lead in rubber turf pellets found in Vancouver is causing some local citizens to call for the Vancouver Park Board to get rid of the faux fields. 

Samples from fields at Trillium Park tested positive for lead, although within federal limits

Janet Brown holds up a bottle of water filled with artificial turf pellets collected from Trillium Park located on National Avenue in Vancouver's Strathcona area. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

A laboratory test revealing lead in rubber turf pellets from a Vancouver park is causing some local citizens to ask officials to remove the faux fields. 

A group of citizens sent samples from playing fields at Trillium Park in Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood to a Burnaby, B.C., environmental testing lab called Total Safety Services. They received the results last month. 

A sample of rubber infill contained 15.9 micrograms of lead per gram. The amount is below the allowable limit of 90 micrograms of lead per gram in surface coatings like paint, according to the Federal Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. 

Any amount of lead is unacceptable to Janet Brown and other advocates Peter Nicol and Marlene Cummings, who are worried about the environment and people's health.

"This needs to be shut down. This pollution needs to stop," Brown said. 

Rubber crumb is spread across synthetic turf playing fields to help the green fibres stand upright, stabilize the surface and provide shock resistance. 

It doesn't always stay put though. Bits of the rubber crumb find their way to nearby shrubs and grass, as well as inside storm sewers. 

The rubber pellets end up at times centimetres deep in nearby shrubs and grasses. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

But Vancouver Coastal Health said there is no public health reason for discontinuing the use of synthetic turf. 

"Serious health risks, including cancer, are not increased from playing on synthetic turf fields with crumb rubber infill," the organization said in a statement. 

The statement said the health authority always recommends purchasing turf materials with the lowest lead content available. 

Rubber pellets found in storm sewers

Brown pointed out a number of storm sewer drains located directly outside the playing field that were filled with green plastic turf and rubber pellets. 

"Here we have pollution that is heading straight towards the drains, towards the fish habitat, going into the food chain," she said.

A shoe cleaner next to the playing field is located directly above a storm water drain. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The park board said the drainage systems are designed to capture the infill and other material before it leaves the site. 

"The presence of infill material at the bottom of the catch basins shows that the system is functioning as designed," said communications coordinator Daria Wojnarski in a statement. 

Options for artificial turf

The Park Board said in a report in April that it wants to increase the number of synthetic turf fields. 

There are currently 12 of them in Vancouver, and another 15 either completed or under construction in Surrey. 

The fields help meet an increasing demand for sports facilities. Turf sports fields equipped with lighting can accommodate 50-80 hours a week of play, compared to 14 hours a week for natural grass which is less resilient, according to the park board.   

The Park Board said Infill like these rubber pellets helps the turf fibres stand upright, stabilizes it and provides shock resistance. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

However, the group's findings seem to have had an impact on some members of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation.

On April 15, a motion involving the installation of a new synthetic turf field at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School was amended by Commissioner John Irwin. 

It now instructs staff to explore more organic and sustainable infill options, as well as possible storm water filtration. 

"In New York, they're using cork coconut fibre type crumb instead of the rubber tire crumb," Irwin said. 

He said the remaining artificial turf fields need to be studied and remediated if necessary. 


Micki Cowan


Micki is a reporter and producer at CBC Vancouver. Her passions are municipal issues and water security.


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