Artificial turf makers dismiss health worries over Hong Kong pitches

Companies say the pitches they laid, which Civic Party says contain restricted toxic chemicals, are safe for use and passed EU non-toxicity standards

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 January, 2017, 11:32pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 12:09am

Manufacturers of artificial grass pitches have dismissed health concerns after two government pitches were found to contain ­potential cancer-causing ­chemicals.

One firm said a neighbouring construction site might be to blame for problems.

This came as Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan called on the government to ­conduct further testing on health risks.

Concern centres on chemicals in the rubber granules – usually made from recycled tyres – which are used as filler material between plastic grass fibres in so-called third-generation pitches used by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

A laboratory test, commissioned by the party, showed there were six restricted toxic chemicals listed in European Union regulations in two samples from Happy Valley and Wong Chuk Hang recreation grounds.

Ready for play? ESF reopens five artificial turf pitches after its tests show no increased health risks

The readings of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – a group of chemicals released in burning and manufacturing processes – ranged from 1.1 milligrams per kilogram to 15mg/kg.

EU legislation regulating rubber components in consumer products states that “articles” ranging from sports equipment to household utensils containing more than 1mg/kg should not be sold to the public.

But the European Commission concluded in a meeting last March that rubber crumbs were defined as “mixtures” rather than “articles”, and fell within a different regulatory scope.

The levels of PAHs in the Civic Party’s test report did not exceed EU restricted levels on “mixtures”, which had a much higher threshold compared to the law that regulates “articles”.

Corporate Europe Observatory, a research group that analyses EU policy making, said the exemption for artificial turf in the EU law on “articles” was a result of lobbying by various rubber and tyre manufacturing companies in the Netherlands.

The Dutch government switched its stance to support the exemption for “pragmatic reasons” after initially supporting strict rules, the Observatory said.

The manufacturers of the tested Happy Valley and Wong Chuk Hang turf, Actionsports International (ASI) and Fieldturf Asia Pacific, told the Post their pitches were safe and had passed EU non-toxicity standards.

Chemicals in ESF pitches may be caused by air pollution, says artificial turf expert Eric Harrison

ASI managing director Simon Bach said they had no information on how the samples were collected or cleaned, adding that other variables were not ­controlled.

“Happy Valley [pitch No 2] is next to a massive construction site and is regularly covered in dust from next door. [It] may be a cleaning and watering issue,” Bach said in an email.

Vehicle emissions and cigarette smoke also contain PAHs.

The government has the responsibility ... to investigate the issue locally and ... [decide]whether it will adopt the EU standard or any other standards
Academic Dr Karen Mak

There is no international consensus on the safety levels for artificial turf pitches and it has not been proven that toxic chemicals in rubber granules can cause ­cancer.

The US Environmental ­Protection Agency recently backtracked on a study that said the rubber crumbs warranted a “ low level of concern”, and relaunched an investigation into the issue.

The European Commission also asked for a preliminary evaluation on whether the recycled rubber in artificial sports grounds posed any health risks. The results are due to be released in February.

University of Hong Kong biochemist Dr Karen Mak Ka-wai said there was still an inherent health risk, even if concentrations fell within acceptable EU levels.

“The government has the responsibility ... to investigate the issue locally and ... [decide]whether it will adopt the EU standard or any other standards,” Mak said.