Microplastics pollution threat fails to be included in Hockey Feasibility study for Moreland Council

On Wednesday night I made a statement to Moreland Council meeting on Agenda item 7.9 Hockey Feasibility Study for a second Field Hockey pitch in Moreland.

My concerns were that Council needs to consider all the information on health and environmental impacts of synthetic turf, as well as the well argued social benefits, as part of good governance for making an informed  decision. This includes assessing carbon footprint, greenhouse gas emissions climate impact, urban heat, microplastics pollution and reduction in biodiversity, and disposal at end-of-life.

The Feasibility Report had a number of errors which I tried to highlight in my statement, the major one being the complete absence of the microplastics pollution threat. 

A Swiss/German study published October 2021 found that between 50 kilograms to over 1 metric ton per year was the average fibre loss from a synthetic pitch. (Bertling et al 2021) This is separate from infill loss assessed at 2.98 tonnes average per year from the same study (which would mainly apply to soccer artificial turf rather than hockey). 

There are several more errors in the Feasibility study I did not go into.

The health and environmental impacts that were mentioned, were not adequately detailed or quantified which was in sharp comparison to data provided to justify the social benefits. 

My Statement to Moreland Council Meeting 14 September

“My daughter played junior hockey for a couple of years. So, while I welcome this feasibility study I think there are a number of issues with the consultants report.

1. Great effort has gone into highlighting the social need and benefits of a new field hockey pitch in our municipality, and I acknowledge that.

2. While the environmental impacts and impacts to other sports and active recreation are mentioned, there is little detail given commensurate with the argument put forward for hockey.(1)

3. There is one environmental impact which is totally missing from this report: Microplastics Pollution. Is this an issue? Ask Port Phillip Bay Keeper Neil Blake OAM about synthetic fibres pollution with KP Hardiman Reserve (2) in Darebin, used for hockey. Or refer to Martin Sheppard of Smart Connection Consultancy who wrote the Sports Surface Needs Analysis for Council in 2018 who prepared an assessment in 2021(3) of ways to mitigate some of the damage of infill microplastic pollution.

4. My last point I’d like to raise is siting. One of the sites, Parker Reserve in North Coburg, is partly built on a waste tip with evidence of some subsidence. This may require extra stabilisation work for the base of a hockey pitch to be built. Secondly, a synthetic hockey pitch being built next to Merri Creek would cause any microplastic pollution finding its way into the creek environment affecting aquatic ecosystems(4) and the food web and contributing to plastics pollution in Port Phillip Bay.

This may include fluoropolymers (PFAS related chemicals)(5) used in manufacture of synthetic turf blades and matting(6). Fluoropolymers have chemical traits of biopersistence and bioaccumulation which are noted as of concern for both human and environmental health.


(1) See my Literature Review: Synthetic Turf carbon footprint, environmental, health, microplastics and biodiversity impacts (April 2021) written in part to counterbalance the narrow social benefits that accrues to a relatively small but influential cohort in governance decision making on sports surfaces with the various environmental impacts. https://takvera.blogspot.com/2021/04/literature-review-synthetic-turf-carbon.html

(2) Port Philip Baykeeper Neil Blake on KP Hardiman Reserve as reported in The Age in 2021 https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/we-re-running-out-of-space-turf-wars-heat-up-over-synthetic-grass-20210413-p57itd.html

(3) Martin Sheppard (March 2021), Minimising the Impacts of Microplastics on the Environment https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/minimising-impacts-microplastics-environment-martin/

(4) Boyle, Kellie., and Örmeci, Banu., (Sep 2020), Microplastics and Nanoplastics in the Freshwater and Terrestrial Environment: A Review, Water 2020, 12, 2633; doi:10.3390/w12092633 https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4441/12/9/2633

(5) Lohmann, Rainer., Ian T. Cousins, Jamie C. DeWitt, Juliane Glüge, Gretta Goldenman, Dorte Herzke, Andrew B. Lindstrom, Mark F. Miller, Carla A. Ng, Sharyle Patton, Martin Scheringer, Xenia Trier, and Zhanyun Wang, (Oct 2020) Are Fluoropolymers Really of Low Concern for Human and Environmental Health and Separate from Other PFAS?
Environmental Science & Technology 2020 54 (20), 12820-12828
DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c03244

(6) Lauria, Mélanie Z., Ayman Naim, Merle Plassmann, Jenny Fäldt, Roxana Sühring, and Jonathan P. Benskin, (July 2022) Widespread Occurrence of Non-Extractable Fluorine in Artificial Turfs from Stockholm, Sweden, Environmental Science & Technology Letters 2022 9 (8), 666-672
DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.2c00260 https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.estlett.2c00260

Impact of Fluoropolymer chemicals in synthetic turf? An active question 
In March 2022 a science study found that microplastics have now been detected in the human bloodstream. The microplastics composition came largely from 4 plastic groups, one of which was polyethylene, which is commonly used in synthetic turf fibres. 
The researchers reported that a mean 1.6 µg/ml concentration of nanoplastics was found in human blood, “this study provide a unique dataset that supports the hypothesis that human exposure to plastic particles results in absorption of particles into the bloodstream. This indicates that at least some of the plastic particles humans come in contact with can be bioavailable and that the rate of elimination via e.g. the biliary tract, kidney or transfer to and deposition in organs is slower than the rate of absorption into the blood.” (Leslie et al March 2022). 
One of the issues is that microplastic particles often have a hacky structure that attract other toxic chemicals, so microplastics can be a vector into the body and bloodstream and now possibly to most organs of toxic chemicals such as Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), heavy metals, Volatile Organochlorine Compounds (VOCs) (Su et al 2019).
An evolving issue over the last 3 years, associated with synthetic turf and microplastics, is whether fluoropolymers associated with PFAS chemicals are used in the synthetic turf manufacture, how stable they are, and to what extent they might contribute to the whole problem of widespread PFAS contamination, and impacts on human health and environment. 
In a representative study conducted in Stockholm on artificial turf samples of various ages and types, Fluorine signatures were detected in all field samples with from 0.315kg to 17.439 kg of Fluorine detected per field. (Lauria July 2022)
Melanie Lauria and her colleagues in their study (July 2022) – Widespread Occurrence of Non-Extractable Fluorine in Artificial Turfs from Stockholm, Sweden – found Fluorine signatures in all collected samples from backing, fillin and fibres. They concluded that “The combination of poor extractability and recalcitrance toward advanced oxidation suggests that the fluorine in Artificial Turf does not pose an imminent risk to users. However, concerns surrounding the production and end of life of Artificial Turf, as well as the contribution of filling and blades to environmental microplastic contamination, remain.”

“The evidence reviewed in this analysis does not find a scientific rationale for concluding that fluoropolymers are of low concern for environmental and human health. Given fluoropolymers’ extreme persistence; emissions associated with their production, use, and disposal; and a high likelihood for human exposure to PFAS, their production and uses should be curtailed except in cases of essential uses.” argues Lohmann et al in their 2020 peer-reviewed science study: Are Fluoropolymers Really of Low Concern for Human and Environmental Health and Separate from Other PFAS?

Presence of Fluoropolymers may complicate synthetic turf recycling or disposal
The whole issue of Fluoropolymers in Artificial Turf manufacture complicates end of life disposal or recycling. In one of those recent studies the researchers even suggest expensive deep mine disposal for products such as artificial turf with Fluoropolymers might be required to take the PFAS out of the hydrological cycle. 

“Landfilling of fluoropolymers leads to contamination of leachates with PFAS and can contribute to releases of plastics and microplastics. Even with an exceptional chemical and thermal stability, fluoropolymer particles will be disintegrated into microplastics by weathering and physical stress, which enables further dispersion and increased bioavailability. 85,86 Storage in abandoned mines and oil extraction fields is an option not routinely explored (except when court-ordered, see below) but is costly and logistically complicated.” – (Lohmann et al 2020)

The “recovery and pelletise plastics from synthetic turf for on selling as a recycled material input to other manufacturing processes” may just push the contamination further along.

Incineration of synthetic turf is also seen as highly problematic.

Council Decision

Representatives of the Baseball Club at Parker Reserve also highlighted errors in the Feasibility report, that they used grounds for training both in winter and summer and this wasn’t adequately taken into account.

The Hockey Club said that MacDonald Reserve was their preferred location, and they essentially are asking for a synthetic pitch without all the pavillions and other bells and whistles that blow out the cost as per the Feasibility study. The synthetic pitch would conform to Hockey Victory standards, including environmental standards. (Part of the standards referenced are a Sports Victoria document on synthetic turf published Feb 2011 that is now very outdated, missing a lot of relevant research in the last decade on urban heat, microplastics, health risk, carbon emissions and carbon footprint, and biodiversity impact.)

Off-leash Dog walkers (at both parks) were not heard from and any informal active recreation users were also silenced by not being a recognised category of user. (This is a problem – if you aren’t a recognised category or cohort, your needs are often ignored and not adequately catered for. This is why informal active recreation users often lose out with conversion of open space sports fields to fenced spaces for sports clubs)

The Officer recommendation was for the Feasibility study to be noted,  that Parker Reserve North Coburg and Macdonald Reserve Coburg were “recommended by the feasibility study as possible sites for a second hockey field, subject to further consideration, community engagement and funding availability”; and that Council “Defers further consideration of this study until the second half of 2023.”

In it’s decision, Council amended the officer recommendation to note MacDonald Reserve as the preferred site rather than Parker Reserve.  The motion also noted further consideration would await the study on sports surfaces and open spaces that is scheduled to come back to Council in June 2023, after which it will be “subject to further consideration, community engagement and funding availability.”

Crs Carli-Hannan and Tapinos sort to exploit the situation with Field Hockey (a sport only played competitively on synthetic surfaces) by proposing and supporting an amendment to explore a synthetic turf training pitch for soccer also at MacDonald Reserve next to a new Hockey pitch. This amendment was lost.

If you refer back to April 2021 Councillors Carli-Hannan, Cr Tapinos, Cr Yildiz, Cr El-Halabi, Cr Pavlidis, Cr Davidson all voted against a motion to investigate and report on health and environmental impacts of synthetic turf to better inform Councillors in making governance decisions.   
Importance of Sports Surfaces and Open space study
There was another request at Council, but not part of the Hockey discussion. 
A representative from Brunswick City Soccer Club requested extra time for training at CB Smith Reserve, as the 15 hour playing capacity per week at Dunstan Oval in West Brunswick is proving insufficient. 
It highlights the problem with lack of capacity of Moreland turf sports fields and the need to explore sustainable solutions with turf management that can boost capacity. 
We know Skinner Reserve in Brimbank was upgraded to 35 hours per week natural turf. It highlights the importance of the Sports surfaces study all the more.
It is important also to be aware of a number of inquiries which may feed in to Moreland’s sports surface study due to come back to Council in June 2023:

1. Victorian parliamentary Inquiry into Environmental Infrastructure for Growing Populations handed down its report (pdf) in February 2022. The Andrews Government has yet to respond. Recommendation 4a was “investigate the environmental impacts, as well as cost‑effective mitigation strategies, associated with the large‑scale installation of synthetic surfaces in coming years;” Will this investigation take place? Who knows? Victoria is well behind NSW on these issues….

2. The NSW Office of the Chief Scientist is presently undertaking a scientific investigation into synthetic turf in public spaces. Read the terms of reference. Read some brief comments during NSW estimates: Synthetic turf and microplastics under investigation by NSW Chief Scientist (August 25, 2022)

This investigation by the Office of the Chief Scientist follows a consultants report on use of synthetic turf in open spaces in NSW which highlighted several Councils lack of maintenaince of turf sports fields and failure to adequately explore boosting natural turf capacity before embarking on synthetic turf.
A few Microplastics Factoids:
In my extensive reading of the scientific and consultants literature on synthetic turf and microplastics I have collected these small pieces of factual informations:

50 kilograms to over 1 metric ton per year – average fibre loss from a pitch contributing to microplastics pollution. (Bertling et al Oct 2021)

5% microplastic content in soil – has been shown at this level and above to impact native grass growth and survival.(Van Kleunan et al 2019)

0.1–5 g of microplastics ingested per week by each human – first order global average weekly estimate of microplastics (from all sources) ingested by humans through various exposure pathways (Senathirajah et al 2021)

microplastics particles at size <75 μm are very capable of accumulating within the human body. “These early findings suggest that there is a potential threat to human health.” (Boyle et al Sep 2020)

1.6 µg/ml concentration of nanoplastics found in human blood – “mean of the sum quantifiable concentration of plastic particles in blood was 1.6 µg/ml.” Polyethylene terephthalate, polyethylene and polymers of styrene (a sum parameter of polystyrene, expanded polystyrene, acetonitrile butadiene styrene etc.) were the most widely encountered microplastics. Synthetic turf fibres are commonly Polyethylene. (Leslie et al March 2022)

0.315–17.439 kg of Fluorine per field. Signature chemical that indicates possible presence of PFAS class of chemicals and Fluoropolymers. Samples were from 17 fields in Stockholm, Sweden, a variety of infills including sand and of various ages from different manufacturers. Fluorine detected in every sample of backing, infill and fibres from all 17 sites of variopus ages and different manufacture. Authors postulate this problem may be a global issue with synthetic turf. (Lauria et al 2022) This study follows several reports of PFAS in synthetic surfaces in the USA. PFAS chemicals are biopersistent and bioaccumulate, called ‘Forever Chemicals’ and scientists now postulate a new planetary boundary of PFAS being exceeded. (Persson et al 2022)

Microplastics Factoid Relevant to soccer pitches infill:
2.98 metric tons – average loss of performance infill on the examined pitches per year (Germany/Switzerland), and above the top-up quantity (2.68 metric tons per year). However, there are significant fluctuations in losses. The 95% confidence interval for losses for all pitches of the same construction type is in the range of 1.29 to 4.67 metric tons per year. (Bertling et al Oct 2021) 1–4% of plastic infill is lost and replaced every year (Report for FIFA Eunomia Research 2017)


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