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Independent Reports

Synthetic Turf in Public Spaces

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:

  1. Identify, describe and provide advice on:
    1. key scientific and technical issues associated with the use of synthetic turf compared with grass surfaces in public spaces
    2. 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.
    3. knowledge gaps, including initiatives in other jurisdictions to address these.
    4. applicability to NSW of scientific studies and experiential data from other Australian and international jurisdictions.
  2. Provide advice on:
    1. 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).
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. technical and scientific considerations associated with the use of synthetic turf.
  3. Provide advice on:
    1. 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)
    2. best management practices in the design, installation, maintenance, disposal and recycling of synthetic turf
    3. scientific and technical factors for consideration by local government and other organisations when considering natural and synthetic surfaces.
  4. Develop a research program including:
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
  5. As needed, the Chief Scientist & Engineer may:
    1. seek advice from relevant Government agencies and other organisations
    2. consult with key stakeholders on technical and scientific matters
    3. draw on additional sources of advice and expertise or engage experts as needed
    4. commission or recommend studies.
  6. The Chief Scientist and Engineer will:
    1. provide an initial report by 7 February 2022
    2. provide a final report by mid-2022.

Initial report

Independent review into the design, use and impacts of synthetic turf in public open spaces

Support

Secretariat support will be provided by the Office of the Chief Scientist & Engineer. The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) will also provide support.

Scientific and technical input to the review by the Chief Scientist & Engineer

Anyone wishing to provide scientific or technical information or studies to the review being undertaken by the Chief Scientist & Engineer can email SyntheticTurfReview@chiefscientist.nsw.gov.au.

Please note there is a separate point of feedback for anyone wanting to comment on the development of guidance by the NSW Government (see below).

Development of guidance

The NSW Government is preparing Guidelines on the use of synthetic surfaces in public open space with a range of departments and agencies during the first half of 2022.

The Guidelines will be informed by the Synthetic Turf in Public Open Space Study commissioned by DPIE and scientific and technical advice arising from the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer review.

Members of the public can make input to the development of the guidelines through the DPIE portal.