As many of you know, the School Board is reconsidering what the surface for the playfield at the new Havens School should be. The plan had been (and currently still is) for a synthetic turf field, but, in light of concerns about the health and environmental safety of the crumb rubber infill in most synthetic turf, as well as neighbors’ concerns about use issues, the School Board is considering the possibility of changing the surface to something else (grass or an infill alternative).
We know this is an issue many of you care about and want to learn more about. This Thursday, Sept 24, 7:00-8:30 p.m., the “Green Forum on Synthetic Turf,” sponsored by the PUSD Green Committee, at the Piedmont Middle School Multipurpose Room (740 Magnolia Ave) provides the opportunity to do so. The district is hiring a facilitator for this, and there will be breakout groups so we’ll all have the opportunity to engage in discussion and learn more about this very important issue.
At a later date this fall, the School Board will hold a full hearing on the field surface issues for the Havens Playfield and the decision will be made by December when the “change order’ would have to get in to Webcor (the builder). Now is the time to understand the issue. Please come to the meeting so you can learn as well as voice your opinion.
The Havens and Beach Green Committees believe this is an important issue from an environmental perspective, involving big questions about whether or not the precautionary principle should apply. Other school districts and cities across the country are debating these same issues, and some – most prominently, New York City and the Los Angeles Unified School District – have decided to stop installing more fields with crumb rubber infill.
Independent scientists are urging thorough evaluations before more synthetic fields with recycled tire crumb are installed. For example, the editors of The Journal of Exposure Science and Epidemiology (from the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School ) argue that:
At the present time, we believe that the million dollar + expense to produce and install a synthetic field by communities and athletic facilities demands a much more thorough understanding of the environmental impacts, human exposure and health risk implications associated with all synthetic turf products available on the market. This calls for a comprehensive evaluation of artificial turf by exposure scientists, and others in environmental science and environmental health sciences.
For your edification, below are a few of the health and environmental issues associated with rubber infill playing fields. We’re also attaching a letter Margaret sent to the School Board earlier this year. It describes the issues and contains many links to independent studies. If you only have time to read something shorter, there are links to some informational flyers on the issue at the very end of this message.
Havens Green Committee
Beach Green Committee
What are the health and environmental issues?
TOXICITY: Crumb rubber from waste tires contains toxic chemicals and heavy metals with documented links to harmful health effects. These include toluene (developmental toxicant), benzene (carcinogen, developmental and reproductive toxicant), styrene (neurotoxic), butadiene (carcinogen), butylated hydroxyanisole (carcinogen). Tire rubber contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phthalates, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as well as zinc, lead, cadmium and other metals.
INHALATION, INGESTION: There is potential for all of these toxins to be inhaled, absorbed through the skin, and even swallowed by children who play on these fields.
MIGRATION: Rubber pellets can be tracked into the classroom, car and home, where exposure continues.
RUN-OFF: A number of the chemicals in crumb rubber are soluble in water and might leach from the fields to contaminate ground water and soil.
HEAT: These fields can get very hot when temperatures are high, posing a risk of heat stress or heat stroke. Manufacturers readily admit that a synthetic field can run 10-30 degrees F hotter than a grass field. Synthetic fields contribute to the “urban heat island”effect.
INFECTION: Abrasion injuries (“rug burn”) that occur on synthetic turf create “pathways” for bacterial infections, including MRSA. Properly maintained synthetic fields require regular disinfection.
INJURIES: Synthetic turf may cause more sports injuries (e.g. “turf toe”) than grass. The jury is out on this. Professional sports players prefer grass.
DISPOSAL: Synthetic fields wear out and must be replaced every 8-15 years. How to dispose of the crumb rubber is especially a problem, because it contains toxins and carcinogens.
- PUSD successfully maintains Witter Baseball and Softball fields as natural grass fields with very little pesticide and herbicide use (and plans to use even less of these in the future).
- Grass helps decrease CO2, provides a habitat for many living organisms, and cools the surrounding area.
- Newer varieties of grass exist which require less water and mowing.
- Soils in grass fields contain bacteria which decompose body fluids, algae and animal and bird droppings.
SYNTHETIC TURF WITH ORGANIC INFILL
- Organic infill made from crushed cork and coconut husks does not have the issues with chemicals that crumb rubber infill has.
- Does not retain heat the way crumb rubber does; may have a cooling effect.
- At the end of the lifecycle, the organic infill can be recycled.
What you can do:
ATTEND the September 24 “Green Forum on Synthetic Turf” sponsored by the PUSD Green Initiative (7:00-8:30 p.m., Piedmont Middle School Multipurpose Room, 740 Magnolia Ave) to gain a better understanding of what are the health and environmental issues that need to be considered in making a choice between synthetic turf and grass.
WRITE the Board of Education expressing your opinion. Attend any Board meetings on the issue. (Sometime before December, the Board will make a decision.) School Board e-mails: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
DISCUSS this issue with your friends, teammates, others you think would be concerned.
READ UP ON THE ISSUE: Some places to start:
SHORT FLYER: What to Know About Turf Fields? From Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center .
SHORT FLYER: Common Exposures: Synthetic Turf. From Grassroots Environmental Education. http://www.grassrootsinfo.org/syntheticturf.html
SHORT FLYER: “Grass playing fields vs. synthetic turf: How will your district decide?” New Jersey Education Association http://www.njea.org/pdfs/HS_GrassTurf_May08.pdf
“Synthetic Turf: Health Debate Takes Root,” March 2008 Environmental Health Perspectives, published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences http://www.ehponline.org/members/2008/116-3/EHP116pa116PDF.PDF
“Artificial Turf: Exposures to Ground-Up Rubber Tires,” 2007 Environment and Human Health, Inc., www.ehhi.org/reports/turf/