Another Hong Kong political party raises concerns over artificial turf pitches in city

Democrats urge authorities to run own tests and replace rubber granules, claiming three sports venues had potential cancer-causing chemicals

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 January, 2017, 9:14pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 January, 2017, 11:32pm

A second political party has raised concerns over the use of rubber granules as filler material in government sports pitches after three venues it tested were found to contain potential cancer-causing chemicals and toxic heavy metals.

Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan urged the government to conduct its own tests for safety and replace the filler materials – often made of recycled tyre bits – if necessary.

School health fears raised over potentially toxic artificial turf

“Their excuse has always been that they don’t know what sort of ingredients they have to test for and that they’re not sure there are internationally known or accepted standards,” said Wong, who chairs the Legislative Council food safety and environmental hygiene panel.

“This is very irresponsible.”

She said concerned parents from international schools had commissioned their own lab tests on school pitches.

A similar test commissioned by the Civic Party last month found six restricted toxic chemicals listed in European Union regulations in two samples of rubber granule artificial pitches at Happy Valley and Wong Chuk Hang.

Their excuse has always been that they don’t know what sort of ingredients they have to test for and that they’re not sure there are internationally known or accepted standards
Helena Wong, Democratic Party

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

The Democratic Party’s test results from samples taken from Cherry Street, Kowloon Tsai and Shek Kip Mei park football pitches indicated similar PAH levels ranging from 0.63mg/kg to 18.7mg/kg. Wong claimed most readings from the latter two had exceeded certain European limits. Heavy metals such as lead and cadmium were found.

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

But the European Commission concluded last year that rubber crumbs were “mixtures” rather than “articles” and were subject to different regulation.

The PAH levels in both parties’ test reports did not exceed EU restricted levels on “mixtures”, which has a higher threshold.

No global consensus exists on the safety levels for artificial turf pitches.

The Health Department said it was not responsible for setting standards for artificial turf but “understood there were no internationally accepted standards”.

“The department is closely monitoring the results and developments of relevant international studies so as to provide appropriate health advice pertaining to local conditions,” a spokesman said.

A Leisure and Cultural Services Department spokesman on Sunday reiterated that the artificial turf system used in the city’s existing sports pitches, including rubber fill materials, was “in compliance with Fifa standards”.

The department added its pitch manufacturer had also provided assurances that the materials did not contain toxic or carcinogenic substances on contact with skin.

“The department attaches great importance to the matter and has been working closely with relevant agencies and athletic organisations to follow up on this issue,” the spokesman added.

Pitch manufacturers have dismissed health concerns, claiming their products meet Fifa and EU standards for non-toxicity.