Independent review into the design, use and impacts of synthetic turf in public spaces
In November 2021, the Hon. Rob Stokes MP, (then) Minister for Planning and Public Spaces requested the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer provide expert advice on the use of synthetic turf in public open space in NSW.
Terms of Reference
The Chief Scientist & Engineer will conduct an independent review and provide expert advice on potential risks to the environment and human health from the use of synthetic turf in public open space in NSW and alternative approaches and technologies.
In undertaking the review, the Chief Scientist & Engineer through the Waratah Network and noting areas of expressed public concern will:
- Identify, describe and provide advice on:
- key scientific and technical issues associated with the use of synthetic turf compared with grass surfaces in public spaces
- available data, including:
- data on the installation of synthetic turf in public spaces in NSW, including location, scale, type, composition, age and installation methods.
- performance data, including intended purpose (activities), rates of use, maintenance requirements, lifespan and replacement schedules
- experiential data from the use of synthetic turf in NSW and other Australian and select international jurisdictions, including data on environmental and human health impacts
- comparative data on synthetic and grass surfaces in NSW, including current and projected scale of installation; examples of mixed installation of grass and synthetic surfaces; any trends of note.
- knowledge gaps, including initiatives in other jurisdictions to address these.
- applicability to NSW of scientific studies and experiential data from other Australian and international jurisdictions.
- Provide advice on:
- potential air and water pollution impacts associated with use of different materials in construction and installation of synthetic turf (e.g. synthetic fibres, cork infill, rubber crumb infill).
- potential health impacts of synthetic turf in public open spaces and sports fields including:
- on immediate users, including the rate of use of open spaces; exposure to chemicals, heat impacts and the rate and type of injuries
- on proximate residential areas, including but not confined to potential impacts on temperature
- relevance of geographic and/or spatial factors, including differences relating to urban and regional locations, areas under development etc.
- potential environmental and ecological impacts of synthetic turf compared to natural turf including but not limited to water runoff and local impacts, urban heat island effect, use in bushfire-prone areas, changes to fauna habitat and wildlife corridors and light pollution.
- technical and scientific considerations associated with the use of synthetic turf.
- Provide advice on:
- emerging science and new materials that could be used in conjunction with or as an alternate to existing natural and synthetic surfaces (including identifying new components and potential prototypes, and advances in materials and biological sciences)
- best management practices in the design, installation, maintenance, disposal and recycling of synthetic turf
- scientific and technical factors for consideration by local government and other organisations when considering natural and synthetic surfaces.
- Develop a research program including:
- a description of in-field, laboratory and other studies that will help address key knowledge gaps in the short, medium and longer term and priorities for future data collections.
- commissioning tests of existing materials under different conditions such as heat, humidity, increased water flow and UV exposure to understand impacts, including substances released into the natural environment.
- As needed, the Chief Scientist & Engineer may:
- seek advice from relevant Government agencies and other organisations
- consult with key stakeholders on technical and scientific matters
- draw on additional sources of advice and expertise or engage experts as needed
- commission or recommend studies.
- The Chief Scientist and Engineer will:
- provide an initial report by 7 February 2022
- provide a final report by mid-2022.
Independent review into the design, use and impacts of synthetic turf in public open spaces
Secretariat support was provided by the Office of the Chief Scientist & Engineer. The Department of Planning and Environment (DPE, formerly DPIE) also provided support.
Final Report and development of guidance
The NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer's review into the use of synthetic surfaces for sporting fields and public open space was completed in 2022. The Final Report investigated the impacts and any alternatives that can be used in public spaces and was informed by stakeholders and current research. Scientific, technical and engineering experts were commissioned, and their independent reports were provided in full. The Final Report will support the development of the state’s first set of Guidelines. DPE has been working with councils, industry and government agencies on the Guidelines to assist decision making on the use of synthetic turf.
The Final Report by the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer and the Guidelines developed by DPE will be released together in 2023. For more information, please visit DPE - Synthetic Turf