An MSP has called for the Scottish Government to investigate the state of Scotland’s 3G artificial pitches, in the wake of calls for a ban due to health and environmental concerns.

Last week The Herald reported the findings of  Professor Andrew Watterson of the University of Stirling, which advised that Scotland should follow the European Union, which last year banned the use of 3G ‘crumb rubber’ infill in sports pitches from 2031.

Today at First Minister’s Questions Scottish Conservative MSP Stephen Kerr asked: “Do we know exactly how many pitches there are, or indeed where they are? Will the First Minister commit the Scottish Government to coordinate and work with local authorities to determine the state of artificial pitches across Scotland and to publish the results?”

Professor Watterson's report also called on the Scottish government to “issue new guidance on crumb rubber health and environmental hazards to schools, sports bodies and local authorities based on existing European Union information and decisions.”

The government should also, it said, “examine purchasing and supply chain actions and funding restrictions possible to stop the installation of any new 3G pitches across Scotland now”.

Report author, Professor Andrew Watterson of University of Stirling, told the Herald: “We know that many chemicals in the crumb are a hazard. We know it contains substances that are carcinogenic, we know they may be teratogens and cause birth defects.” Yet, he described, the Scottish government is "dithering".

“Scottish Government and local authorities,” he said, “could act immediately and stop funding the use of crumb rubber infills in new pitches and start planning on using alternative infills as well as increasing natural grass pitch development.”

Professor Watterson’s report refers not to all artificial pitches, but to ‘3G’ pitches that use crumb rubber infill made from shredded ‘end-of-life' tyres.

The Herald: Health fears have been raised about 3G pitches

At First Minister's Questions, Mr Kerr asked what actions the Scottish government plans to take following the study.

First minister, Humza Yousaf  said; “We will, of course, give full consideration to the research in this area and we are supportive of efforts to examine evidence that has been commissioned by DEFRA on the wider impacts of microplastics. This report, expected early next year will be material in helping shape regulation in this very area.”

“One factor which will also help to shape our future action is the work of the EU on the phase out of rubber crumb in 2031. 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.”

Campaigners and scientists have been raising concern over the use for crumb rubber infill  almost a decade, though many official studies have declared the pitches safe. However, many believe a precautionary approach should be taken, given how difficult it is to assess the risks of the multiple chemicals in the crumb.

READ MORE: Ban toxic 3G crumb rubber pitches in Scotland, says report

READ MORE: 3G pitch ban could harm provision of sports facilities

Responding to Mr Kerr's call, Professor Watterson said: "It is remarkable, that the Scottish Government can’t say now how many pitches there are, and where, considering the debate about them has been going on for years."

He said: "The Scottish Government appears to lack confidence in its own agencies and advisors - SEPA , Public Health Scotland  and its own scientific civil servants - to make a judgement on microplastics now. The SEPA-commissioned report on marine pollution and plastics was very good and should have been acted on to control the problem some years ago."

He added: "The Scottish Government also surprisingly does not appear to trust in the EU’s assessment on microplastics and their decision to bring in the crumb rubber ban. Again, many would not see the point of ‘wheel re-invention’ and repeating work already done by much better resourced and staffed EU agencies than anything DEFRA could offer."

"Of course commentators might say that the Scottish Government is simply ducking things and kicking a crumb decision into the long ‘artificial’ grass!”