Enhancing community access to sports facilities, particularly in urban environments, is a challenge around the world. One aspect of this is to improve sports fields’ capacity, recognising the significant increase in demand brought about by increasing population density. The technological improvements associated with artificial turf, and their international approval through FIFA and the International Rugby Board, have resulted in a rapid increase in their use globally as a means of significantly increasing sports field capacity.
Historically the areas set aside for sports fields, have often been ‘left over’, flood prone land. While some sports fields are configured as multi-purpose assets (e.g. as floodplain storage as well as recreation), the rapid increase in artificial turf use and the associated capital investment, has led to the development of these sites coming under increased scrutiny.
Whilst improving sports field capacity is important, improving the livability of cities requires emphasis and deliberate focus on sustaining and valuing the environment. In some locations, in New Zealand and abroad, the public have raised concerns regarding the impact artificial turf sports fields will have on the downstream water environment. This paper outlines both the public perception of artificial turf, the international research to date, and importantly where gaps in understanding remain. The paper sets out currently available information about the effects artificial turf sports fields can have on downstream aquatic health, as well as the impact flooding has on these surfaces.
The paper concludes that there are substantial knowledge gaps regarding how synthetic turf interacts with and influences the water environment. The accurate and careful citing of research results from competent studies may be required to address user concerns when developing fields. Designs should be precautionary in nature such that fields are not located in areas prone to flood risk or overland flow. Furthermore, catchpit protection to intercept macro-particles (i.e. crumb rubber and detached fibres) should also be considered mandatory. Long-term, the results of new research should be brought into the discussion to ensure that all possible impacts of artificial turf are fully understood and considered when designing and installing artificial turf fields.