Below is an editorial I wrote, (Mike Woelfel), in response to two previous editorials. All three editorials were published by North Jersey Media Group, www.northjersey.com The first editorial was written by Jill Riera, a concerned parent, who voiced her concern about the safety of artificial turf. The second editorial was written by Darren Gill of FieldTurf. FieldTurf adamantly refutes the health concerns raised by Jill Riera. What is important to know is that the artificial turf industry is not regulated and that artificial turf manufacturers are using “Scientific Studies” to shape public opinion. The health and safety of those who use artificial turf is the number one concern and that is why I wrote the third edition.
My name is Mike Woelfel and I want to share my opinion about the two previously published pieces, Jill Riera (“Concerns on artificial turf,” Feb. 13) and the response by Darren Gill, FieldTurf (“Response to artificial turf issue in Ho-Ho-Kus”)
I sell artificial turf equipment that eradicates Staph (Staphylococcus aureus) and MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) on artificial turf. I am not here to promote my business but want to share my opinions, as to the dangers bloodborne pathogens and biohazards pose to athletes young and old, as they participate in sports on artificial turf and how turf manufacturers use scientific studies to misdirect the public’s opinion on the safety of artificial turf.
When Jill Riera wrote her editorial piece I contacted her via email. She first asked me how I even knew about her article (I live in Oregon), I said Google Alerts. I told her the editorial she wrote resonated loud and far with many people. She didn’t believe me until the next day when she received an email from Darren Gill VP, Global Marketing FieldTurf, who promptly informed Jill, “I feel that you are missing some key scientific data that would help you understand why artificial turf is safe”. Jill never mentioned FieldTurf in her editorial but coincidently FieldTurf has a proposal pending at Jill’s kid’s school for new artificial turf. I have written extensively on my concerns about field safety, in conjunction with many national press releases and no one has ever contacted me from FieldTurf to change my opinion. I would assume if FieldTurf is paying attention to an editorial piece from a concerned mother than they definitely know who I am. I have repeatedly reached out to local FieldTurf representative Steve Coury. Not a single response.
I agree with FieldTurf on the first part of their main argument that (1) “artificial turf is not a living/breathing organism like natural grass. (Hence the name artificial) (2) Natural grass naturally harbors bacteria-artificial turf does not.” FieldTurf’s interpretation of the word “harbors” is at the core of the issue. To them, harbor means “turf systems do not harbor significant populations of staph bacteria to warrant concern.”
-Dr. Andrew McNitt, Associate Professor of Soil Science at Penn State University, June 2009, A Survey of Microbial Populations in Infilled Synthetic Turf Fields
So yes, artificial turf doesn’t breed bacteria, but it only takes one contact with bacteria, such as Staph. “Staph can survive for long periods on artificial turf, 22-40 days.”
-Neely & Maley, 2000, Journal of Clinical Microbiology
What turf manufacturers avoid saying is that every sport played on artificial turf is a contact sport; contact sports create cuts and abrasions which are openings in the skin. Artificial turf has an increased instance of creating cuts and abrasions then natural grass due to the “turf burns” that players experience.
-Seppa, N. 2005. There’s the Rub: Football Abrasions Can Lead to Nasty Infections. Science News 167: 85-86
A cut or abrasion is an opening for Staph or MRSA to enter the body. Shaved legs constitute an abrasion. Staph also needs person to person contact or a shared item, artificial turf is a shared item, for an infection to take place. These fields, both Indoor & Outdoor, are in use 6-7 days per week. Every demographic of people, from young mothers and their babies to senior citizens, utilize these fields.
25-30% of the population is colonized with Staph
25-30% of athletes that come in contact with artificial turf could spread Staph.
There is no government agency that has oversight for safety or health concerns for artificial turf.
There is no usage monitoring of the fields. A recreational league player who has a bloodborne pathogen (HIV, Hepatitis, etc.) could bleed all over the field and no biohazard rules exist to address cleanup.
When I first started my business I visited many artificial turf fields. On my first field visit I found a used band-aid and on each subsequent visit to a new field, I found more used band-aids. Other special finds included metal, vomit and unknown substances. I took pictures of these items and put them on my website to illustrate the daily hazards lurking everywhere. I was accused by a “scientist” from New Zealand of planting these items. After a little research, I determined the “scientist” was a representative of a turf manufacturer trying discrediting my discoveries and shape public opinion, as to the overall safety of artificial turf.
From the CDC in Atlanta
“MRSA (and Staph) is transmitted most frequently by direct skin-to-skin contact or contact with shared items or surfaces that have come into contact with someone else’s infection (e.g., towels, used bandages).
MRSA skin infections can occur anywhere. However, some settings have factors that make it easier for MRSA to be transmitted. These factors, referred to as the 5 C’s, are as follows: Crowding, frequent skin-to-skin Contact, Compromised skin (i.e., cuts or abrasions), Contaminated items and surfaces, and lack of Cleanliness.”
-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “MRSA and the Workplace”, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Artificial turf has all 5 C’s and you only need one of the five to get a Staph or MRSA infection. This fact alone propelled me to pursue the business I am in to protect athletes and educate the masses.
Artificial turf is a big business. There is no regulation for this industry. It will take individuals like Jill Riera, who is only concerned for her children’s safety, to make school districts weigh all the “scientific” studies.
Mike Woelfel is a partner in Sports Turf Northwest in Sherwood Oregon www.sportsturfnw.com