Written by Demetria Mudar Tuesday, 09 June 2009 16:35
Artificial turf, the synthetic “grass” on sports fields throughout the country, remains a “hot” issue. The pros and cons have been debated for years: Do the benefits of the fields outweigh the concerns, or vice versa? Do the fields enable more kids to enjoy much-needed exercise, despite inclement weather? Or, do they endanger the health of children or the environment? And, has a final, comprehensive, definitive study, which considers all of the factors, already been completed or is it still to be done?
Turf manufacturers and installers, the national Synthetic Turf Council, along with many communities, parent and school groups, cite numerous benefits, expert opinions and test results. But some children’s health experts and environmentalists continue to press for a final “definitive” study of the potential health and environmental impacts, and cite opposing test results and expert opinion. Expressed concerns range from the effect of the chemicals in the turf (on children, the water and the environment) to the high temperatures that some fields can reach, and the contribution to global warming. Professed benefits range from year-round availability of fields to accommodate many sports and students, combating childhood obesity and enhancing athletic performance, and the cost-effectiveness of the artificial turf versus natural covering.
Further complicating this issue is the wide range of synthetic turf coverings. The materials have changed over the years, and one company now offers what they term an “organic” alternative, saying that it is 100 percent safe for the environment.
Manhasset now has artificial turf fields in the public school district and St. Mary’s. In May, Manhasset dedicated its new artificial turf baseball field at the high school. Manhasset’s first field was installed several years ago.
Earlier this year, NYS Assemblyman Steve Englebright, from Suffolk, introduced legislation calling for a six-month moratorium on new artificial turf fields, pending the outcome of a definitive study about the effects of these fields on people and the environment. Michele Schimel, the NYS Assemblywoman representing Nassau, is a co-sponsor. Assemblyperson Englebright proposed a similar initiative in 2007, which was defeated.
So what is a parent to think? All groups involved seem to agree on one fundamental point: they want to do something positive for students and athletics.
To facilitate ongoing discussion and present all sides of the issues, The Manhasset Press asked a spectrum of groups and individuals for comment. Here are the responses received by press time. We have invited additional comments from Manhasset groups and parents and will continue to publish diverging viewpoints. To see firsthand how varied opinions are, web search “artificial turf” and then let us know what you think.Should there be a Nassau County Forum on this topic, as other NY counties have done?
“I applaud this initiative by the Manhasset Press to encourage public discussion about the use of synthetic turf in indoor and outdoor athletic fields. These mats are increasingly replacing natural turf in parks, athletic facilities, playgrounds and indoor arenas without an adequate assessment of their potentially negative impacts.”
Assemblymember Englebright continued “Some synthetic turf is made from crumb rubber fill which comes from waste tires processing – this turf may contain arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, vanadium, zinc and acetone. Health effects associated with these contaminants include birth defects, cancer, nervous system damage and immunity system suppression. We cannot run the risk of subjecting our children and others using such facilities to possible exposure to these dangerous materials.
The Precautionary Principle tells us that a comprehensive assessment of synthetic turf is absolutely essential before further installations occur, to avoid what may be irreversible and unnecessary damage to people who are using these facilities.”
From NYS Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck)
“Assemblymember Englebright’s bill asks for a calm, measured, and thoughtful approach to a concept that could have lasting consequences to the children who play on these fields. I signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill to gain a better understanding of the long-term ramifications of crumb rubber installation.”
Indians Rock Community Foundation is a community-based foundation whose mission is to develop, manage, and plan the acquisition, improvement and construction of athletic facilities throughout the Manhasset community. As we understand the proposed bill, it calls for a six-month moratorium on the installation of synthetic turf fields pending a definitive study of the health/environmental effects of the use of “crumb rubber” in synthetic fields.
Indians Rock is passionate in its goal to provide more green space, whether synthetic or natural, for the residents and athletes of Manhasset. Indians Rock has not conducted any independent studies but instead has relied on information made available to the public by the NYS Department of Health, who in August 2008 issued a fact sheet entitled “Crumb-Rubber Infilled Synthetic Turf Athletic Fields”. The conclusion of that fact sheet was that “Based on the available information, chemical exposures from crumb rubber in synthetic turf do not pose a public health hazard.”
That fact sheet also looked at: test conducted by the California Environmental Protection Agency, 2007; Evaluation of Health Effects of Recycled Waste Tires in Playground and Track Products. Sacramento, CA: Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment; the French National Institute for Industrial Environment and Risks; Environmental and Health Evaluation of the use of Elastomer Granulates (Virgin and From Used Tyres) as Filling in Third-Generation Artificial Turf, 2007; the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Radium Hospital. 2006; Artificial Turf Pitches – An assessment of the Health Risks for Football Players. Oslo, Norway; and the Norwegian Building Research Institute (NBI). 2004; Potential Health and Environmental Effects Linked to Artificial Turf Systems - Final Report. Project N/Archive N O-10820. Oslo, Norway. Each of those studies concluded no significant health issues from the use of crumb rubber in synthetic fields.
The NY State Dept. of Health has also commented that, “Synthetic turf is more durable than natural turf and can be used without the rest periods that natural turf requires to keep the turf healthy.” This is a key point as Indians Rock advocates for the development of athletic facilities to ensure the broadest participation in athletics throughout the Manhasset community for its residents and athletes. Artificial turf playing fields allow for the broadest and most participation since they can be used with little rest, they eliminate the risks associated with pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, needed to properly care for natural fields and can save on the use of water which has been estimated that an average soccer/football natural field will typically use 50,000 gallons of water per week to properly irrigate. The fact that the NYS Department of Health found that exposure to crumb rubber posses no public health hazard coupled with the benefits associated with synthetic fields would seem to indicate that under the appropriate circumstances the use of a synthetic field could outweigh the use of a natural field.”
The Synthetic Turf Council is, as explained on its website, “a non-profit association dedicated to serving as a resource for trustworthy information about synthetic turf.”
Rick Doyle, President, The Synthetic Turf Council:
“Contrary to what the bill states, there are numerous independent studies available that validate the safety of synthetic turf, including one released last month from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. NYS Assemblyman Englebright apparently believes that, at a time when childhood obesity is a national tragedy, hundreds of thousands of New York’s children should be denied the healthy benefits of playing outside and practicing sports on synthetic turf fields. It doesn’t make sense for New York to spend more precious funds to conduct research when the answers are already available.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Doyle provided the Manhasset Press with a comprehensive list of third party studies, including several from and specific to New York. Space limitations prevent publishing this list, but Mr. Doyle said, “We invite the community to review this information at www.syntheticturfcouncil.org.”
Another website, SynTurf.org, provides access to many news articles and studies about the hazards of artificial turf.
We asked Guive Mirfendereski, the Massachusetts attorney who founded the site how and why he got involved with this issue.
“I became interested in this issue when my city (Newton, MA) decided some years back to spend open space money to turf over 5 acres of existing natural grass fields near a wetlands area,” he explained. “That proposed appropriation from the fund (Community Preservation Act) proved illegal. I then became interested in the product itself, believing that the replacement of grass fields with plastic and crumb rubber surfaces had unresolved effects on health, the environment and athlete’s physical well-being. I could not find much information about turf other than what the industry was selectively disclosing to benefit its sales. So, I set up www.SynTurf.org
This is the nation’s first academic research and policy center, established in 1998, to examine the links between exposure to toxic pollutants and childhood illness. The Center released this statement in February 2009:
As spring approaches, many parents around the country are concerned about the wide scale use of artificial turf fields on school grounds and in park properties. While the recognized benefits include the potential for increased use and thereby increased physical activity, these benefits must be tempered by the potential risks. It is widely recognized that there is a potential for burn injuries related to high temperatures on the turf surface in the heat of the day. Studies in athletes have also shown increased risk for wound infections when playing on these surfaces. A major question that remains unanswered is whether exposure to myriad potential toxins found in recycled tires may unduly expose children playing on the fields and hence negatively impact children’s health. There is a potential for these toxins to be inhaled, absorbed through the skin and even ingested. These exposures do not remain on the field alone. Children then track the rubber pellets found in the surface into their homes where young children may also be exposed. More recently, lead, a toxin with well-studied health concerns, was found in the plastic, green blades of fake grass that top the fields. Citizens and school boards should question the wisdom of installing synthetic turf until a credible independent study has been conducted and published.
Tips for safer uses of turf fields:? Do not use the turf fields on extremely hot days; Be sure to clean and monitor any “turf burns” obtained while playing; Attempt to remove all pellets from shoes and clothes prior to leaving the fields; At home, shake out your children’s equipment and clothes in the garage or over the garbage; Have your child shower and wash thoroughly after playing on the field.