Neither East or South Ayrshire Council have been swayed by a study which warns of the potential health risks in artificial sports pitches.

East Ayrshire Council operates 14 synthetic pitches, 12 of which use 'rubber crumb' infill, while South Ayrshire Council currently has nine pitches which use the material, with another to be completed in Girvan this year.

The infill material is often created using old tyres, material which has been found to contain potentially harmful carcinogenic substances, which can increase likelihood of cancer.

However, there has been significant pushback from sports bodies and local authorities who argue that the issue is not around the nature of the materials, but whether they can be absorbed through the skin, through cuts or by being inhaled or ingested and, if so, what the effect is.

A report by Professor Andrew Watterson from the University of Stirling has claimed that the evidence of such toxic material being used in artificial turf should be enough to warrant a ban.

However, the study does not provide evidence that specifically ties the use of the material as infill to major health issues.

Critics of the report point out that a ban would impact hundreds of communities who rely on pitches that can be used all year round.

Cumnock Chronicle: An all-weather sports pitch at Maybole Community Campus.An all-weather sports pitch at Maybole Community Campus. (Image: South Ayrshire Council)

Prof Watterson’s report states: “Hazardous chemicals such as those in crumb rubber are not being regulated effectively. There are, however, a variety of alternatives to crumb rubber, including grass, already available.”

The European Union has set a 2031 target for a ban on the use of microplastics from crumb rubber.

While this has been brought in to prevent the materials entering the ecosystem, Professor Watterson says it was also brought in to address health concerns.

The development of a new 3G pitch at Victory Park in Girvan is one of three case studies in the report.

Prof Watterson states that South Ayrshire Council does not have a crumb rubber policy for pitches but had indicated that it complied with British and European Standards, although it had not looked at the European ban as "it was not taking effect for eight years".

He continues: “The Girvan pitch has, however, proved controversial and met with considerable opposition from some very well informed residents, for reasons including, and also extending beyond, public health concerns linked to crumb toxicity, that merit attention.

“They also noted concerns about the toxicity of crumb infills, the lifetim/lifecycle of 3G costs, and the existence of alternative infills.”

A spokesperson for South Ayrshire Council said there were no concerns around the use of crumb rubber and there were no plans to take any action around the findings of the report.

A spokesperson for East Ayrshire Council said that the study acknowledged that there was no strong evidence to match the concerns.

They said: “As highlighted within the report, there are no conclusive scientific findings linking rubber crumb infill on pitches with adverse health effects.

"Correspondingly, we are unaware of any adverse health effects that have been conclusively linked to this material.

“In these circumstances, and recognising that there are no current alternatives on the market, to our knowledge, that provide cost-effective performance and durability to that provided by rubber crumb infill, we have no plans at present to move to alternative materials.

“There are no plans to change from using rubber crumb infill in our synthetic pitches at present.

"This position is kept under constant review, informed by applicable national guidance.”

First Minister Humza Yousaf was asked about the study at Holyrood recently.

He said: “Local sport and leisure facilities, including artificial grass pitches, are vital in supporting the physical and mental health of the nation.

“We will, of course, give full consideration to the new research in that area, and we are supportive of efforts to examine evidence that has been commissioned by the department for the environment, food and rural affairs on the wider impacts of microplastics.

“That report, which is expected early next year, will be material in helping to shape regulation that we will take forward in that area.

“Sportscotland is also working with others to explore alternative artificial pitch systems and more suitable infill products to replace the spread of microplastics in the environment.”

In his report, Professor Watterson argues that the evidence used by the UK and Scottish Governments and councils is out of date and "skewed".

He questioned the claim that there are no viable alternatives ‘as effective’ as current 3G pitches, saying that "there have always been alternatives".

The study’s recommendations include restrictions to grant funding, phasing out crumb rubber used in pitches and playgrounds by 2029-30, and a "broader prevention and precautionary approaches to all hazardous chemicals".