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Hong Kong air pollution

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

The Fifa and World Rugby consultant is confident tests will show the levels are ‘nowhere near what the World Health Organisation limitations are’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 December, 2016, 9:55pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 December, 2016, 10:23am

Air pollution rather than turf ­material is likely to be the cause of any potentially dangerous chemicals found on the five English Schools Foundation (ESF) sports pitches closed for testing, according to a British expert.

Dr Eric Harrison, who was ­invited by the Hong Kong Rugby Union for advice, cautioned on Thursday that “until we see the results, nobody can be absolutely sure about it”. He said he also suspected that the levels of chemicals on the pitches were “nowhere near what the World Health ­Organisation limitations are”.

School health fears raised over potentially toxic artificial turf

“There are concerns about levels of certain types of chemicals that you see on these pitches but they are the same chemicals that are in the environment all the time,” he said.

“You get them on the street. The biggest causation tends to be from car pollution and obviously in a place like Hong Kong, because of its geographical location, the way the hills hold the air in, you get a higher concentration of certain kinds of things which deposit on to the field.

“I suspect they have picked up some of this level of pollution because all of the other tests that have ever been done along these lines have shown that it has come from the air and not from the ground.”

Harrison, who has 30 years’ experience in the field and wrote the performance standards that both soccer governing body Fifa and World Rugby abide by, has been in direct contact with the ESF since arriving from England on Wednesday.

He said this type of occurrence was nothing new and that the ESF “now know far more than they did yesterday and they are feeling far more comfortable than they did yesterday”.

“I don’t know what testing has been done. I would have to see whether they have done the right test and I would have to look at the numbers before I could pass any real opinion on it, but clearly the major source of this is the pollution,” he said.

“That’s been found in studies throughout Europe and the United States. They are not finding anything new. The fact that they have found this, it’s just maybe something they hadn’t investigated enough.”

Harrison said the level of chemicals found on artificial turf often differed due to weather conditions. “The levels will change because obviously after a dry period it’s dusty, there is dust in the atmosphere all the time, and when it rains, the pollutants are now suddenly washed away.”

Harrison said he was not surprised by the ESF’s decision to remain silent about it.

“I think they are going to be cautious at the moment for logical reasons because they don’t know,” he said.

“Logically, if you have cause for concern you would close something because you are talking about parents [who] are concerned and they have an onus of responsibility towards that situation.”