Football on artificial turf: the EU wants to ban pellets | Sports | DW 2

Football on artificial turf: the EU wants to ban pellets | Sports | DW

The decision of the administration came spontaneously. The filling material of BV Wevelinghoven's new synthetic turf field will consist of cork instead of pellets. Instead of plastic, ten tons of cork are now ordered. "We were just in the decision-making phase," said Stephan Renner, Grevenbroich's spokesman for the press, Good king News. "Now we are definitely on the side of security."

The reason for Grevenbroicher's immediate change is a letter from the city and local NRW government in early May. The municipalities were informed that, at European level, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) was currently considering the ban of plastic pellets on artificial turf.

According to the authorities, the problem is whether "certain microplastics released deliberately into the environment must be banned". The pellets must be removed in use and by wind and pollute the environment with small plastic particles (up to five millimeters). "The ban should come into force after the current state of 2021", the discharge of pellets would be banned from 2022, communicated the municipal umbrella organization: "The acquired rights or periods of transition are not planned. "

The nation (football) is surprised

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said Tuesday that she was not working on a general ban on artificial turf pitches, but if the pellets, which are still used on thousands of seats, are not used, remains open. "It surprised us and we are also looking at it with great concern," Renner said. His only administrative responsibilities include five other artificial grass pitches and three small pitches, all filled with pellets. "It would cost us at least 1.2 million euros, so we are asking for transitional periods to replace the filler within the usual time of refurbishment and maintenance," says Renner.

Not only the Grevenbroicher, the whole nation (football) is surprised. In many parts of the Republic, the affected small amateur clubs are wondering if they could continue to operate their game after a ban and how they should succeed in making this place their own "European fit". Such a financial expense can hardly afford a club more.

Artificial turf pitches are renewed (picture-alliance / dpa / B. Wüstneck)

The construction of a new artificial turf field is associated with great efforts

"Whether or not the European Commission proposes to ban plastic litter materials for artificial turf sports grounds is not yet clear," said a spokesman for Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD ), who tried to reassure the public. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer wants to campaign for a six-year transition period.

Müller: "Some discharge occurs naturally"

Tobias Müller does not understand the current discussion. The press spokesman "Polytan", one of the largest manufacturers of artificial turf pitches, is rather unhappy with the result. His point of criticism: the Fraunhofer UMSICHT Institute has published a study on microplastics around which now articulate the discussions on the ban. "A certain discharge is of course taking place, but it is spreading with too much excitement," said Müller, DW.

The authors have dealt with old studies and European quantitative approaches. In Europe, because of the design, many more granules are applied to the squares. These values ​​can not simply be transferred to Germany, says Müller. The Fraunhofer UMSICHT Institute expects about twelve kilograms of pellets per square meter, the latest product being 1.7 kilograms per square meter.

New scientific investigations

In contrast to the institute, about 8,000 to 11,000 tons of pellets a year will be released into the environment by artificial grass pitches on about 3,500 granular filling sites in Germany, but only 250 to 400 kilograms per square and per year. "Not all pellets, as is claimed, go directly into the environment, but much of it is removed by sweepers or during winter treatment of squares," Müller said.

Microplastic DE Computer Graphics

The granules have changed anyway in recent years. Shredded car tires made of pure plastic with granules made of 70% hemp or chalk and 30% synthetic rubber. "Black pellets are only installed at the express request of the customer and very rarely, especially abroad," says Müller. The company's goal is to develop 100% organic granules with the same characteristics for athletes who replace plastic.

The Fraunhofer Institute, UMSICHT, announced that there was little experimental data available for "quantification of microplastic emissions". Thus, the institute worked with estimates and "non-absolute numbers also based on data from abroad". Currently performing follow-up exams.

Low risk to health

However, the health risks for users of places filled with pellets are low. Biochemist Annegret Biegel-Engler, head of the department "Measures for Soil Protection" of the Federal Agency for the Environment, explained in an article of the Federal Institute for the Evaluation of Risks "Rubber granules on sports fields", that the granules of SBR "contain heavy metals, phthalates (plasticizers), formaldehyde, benzothiazoles, methyl isobutyl ketones, etc." can be overwhelmed. The granules of a microplastic source in the environment, for example when it is raining on the sewage system and the treatment plants, reach surface waters such as streams, rivers and lakes.

Weißwasser wastewater treatment plant (picture-alliance / T. Lehmann)

With the clarified water from the sewage treatment plant, micro-plastic particles enter the surrounding waters

The impact of SBR – SBR (styrene-butadiene rubber) granules on human health has recently been evaluated by ECHA. It concludes that, on the basis of the information currently available, it can be assumed that the use of artificial turf pitches containing SBR granules as filling material poses only minor health problems. "

BUND: Change the granulate bit by bit

Regardless of the volume of discharges and the degree of danger of the granules, Nadja Ziebarth of the "Federation for the Environment and Nature Protection in Germany" (BUND) advocates the ban of granules on land of football. "The fact is that pellets are the fifth-largest source of microplastics," said the marine conservation officer. But: the topic of microplastics is indeed very important, but nobody wants BUND that "clubs break," says Ziebarth.

Therefore, the pellet locations must be gradually filled with an environmentally friendly mass. And for that, there must be a transition period. "After all, in addition to the necessary discussion on microplastics, many other factors, such as social and economic components, play an important social role," says the ecologist.