Several members of Ecoin (the Environmental Collective Impact Network) have raised concerns about the plan to install synthetic turf in 9 athletic fields in Middletown. Risks to children’s health from inhaling crumb rubber dust, to the environment (from toxic materials leaching from the material) and higher maintenance and disposal costs than estimated, are among the issues. Below is the op-ed piece posted by Ecoin.
Nine Artificial Turf Fields—A Costly, Risky Solution to Improving the City’s Playing Fields
You may not have heard that the Middletown Parks Department is considering installing nine artificial turf playing fields at City parks and schools, based on recommendations made as part of an evaluation of the City’s athletic fields and parks. These artificial fields would be funded through an upcoming bond referendum. There will be a Common Council Workshop (with no public input) on Tuesday July 21 at 6:30 pm, at which the Council will learn about the Parks Proposal from Milone & MacBroom, the firm that prepared the report. At an August Common Council meeting (date to be determined) members will vote on whether to bring this proposal to referendum in November – or not. We ask that the artificial fields not be included in the bond referendum, and encourage the public to inform themselves about the serious health, fiscal and environmental impacts of these artificial fields.
This proposal comes at the same time when members of Project Green Lawn have been encouraging City leaders to make a switch to organically maintained playing fields, and follow the lead of towns like Branford, CT. Project Green Lawn is a City public awareness campaign working to promote safe, healthy lawns free of chemicals that are harmful to people, pets and the environment. As one example, the Town of Branford, under the guidance of the Parks and Recreation Department, has been committed to an organic turf management approach for over twenty years. Their beautiful organic fields have become a source of pride for the community, and serves as a model for others around the country. One visit to the town to speak with the Recreation Director and see their fields convinced Project Green Lawn members that our city could also benefit from following the same relatively simple and inexpensive approach. Middletown city leaders, however, seem to be convinced that artificial turf is the best solution.
Risks of Artificial Playing Fields
A coalition of environmental groups, Middletown’s Environmental Collective Impact Network (Ecoin), has been studying the health and other risks of artificial turf. Artificial turf is essentially plastic blades of ‘grass’ with fill around these blades, usually composed of shredded tires. We have learned that each artificial turf field contains 40,000 ground-up rubber tires.
These ground-up tires, known as “infill,” contain many toxic chemicals. This toxic mix includes rubber, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and heavy metals (lead, zinc, iron, and manganese). The rubber tire “infill” breaks down as the fields are played on and creates dust. Children and others who play on the fields can inhale the toxic dust, and the toxins get distributed throughout the body. Toxic chemicals can also be ingested and absorbed through the skin. Children bring the crumb rubber particles home on their shoes and clothes, exposing others who may also be at risk. Toxic chemicals can also leach into the surrounding environment, through the soil and groundwater.
The nonprofit organization Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI), which has contracted with Yale researchers to study this issue since 2007, has offered scientific rebuttals of the industry sponsored claims that this turf is not harmful. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Consumer Product Safety Council will no longer stand behind their original studies and recommendations that this product is safe. That should tell us something useful—and be a warning we should heed.
What are some of the known carcinogenic chemicals that are in rubber tires? To name only a few: 1,3- butadiene; benzene; carbon black; carbon black nanoparticles; and carbon nanotubes, which could be as harmful as breathing in asbestos. Flame retardants are another toxic ingredient of artificial turf. The list could go on and on. There are alternative infills made from ground up sneakers and other materials that may be suggested by the City’s consultant, but these have not been tested independently and we should be wary of their use.
There is mounting evidence about the health effects of playing on artificial turf, such as cancers and “turf burn” injuries. Artificial turf is not as forgiving as natural turf. The heat factor is also a concern, not only because of unsafe high temperatures of the fields—on a sunny 70 degree day field heat rises to about 125 degrees—but also because toxins off-gas at a higher rate with the heat. A college soccer coach in Washington has been gathering stories of athletes who are battling lymphoma, possibly because they have been playing on artificial turf for many years and ingested or absorbed the carcinogens. While a connection has not been proven conclusively, a pattern is emerging. Prior to the recent Women’s Soccer World Cup, some members of the US team sued FIFA because they did not want to play on the artificial fields due to the injuries that accompany this turf and exposure to the chemicals.
These concerns are not to be taken lightly. As summarized in a fact sheet published by the Mt. Sinai Hospital Children’s Environmental Health Center, “Concerns about artificial turf are primarily the heat effects, the variability of crumb rubber composition, the risks of exposures due to frequent hand to mouth behavior in young children, and the lack of research addressing multiple exposures to vulnerable populations including children.” The fact sheet concludes that “given the availability of safer alternatives, natural grass fields should be strongly considered when feasible.”
Each of these fields will cost, for installation only, in the vicinity of $850,000 to $1M. There are ongoing maintenance costs that will probably not be acknowledged in the bond referendum materials. As examples, the fields need to be disinfected because of bodily fluids, the fields need to watered down during sunny days to reduce surface temperatures, the lines have to repainted every week or two, and the infill needs to be refreshed and raked regularly in season and then vacuumed up, washed and refluffed every four years. We have discovered that in Rocky Hill the fields must be plowed all winter to prevent damage.
And what happens in eight to ten years when the artificial turf needs to be replaced? There are costs of removal to consider, and disposal may require special treatment due to the materials used. We have seen disposal costs estimated at $45,000 to over $100,000, plus transportation and landfill charges. These costs, plus replacing the fields for approximately $400,000 per field as reported by other towns facing this transition, would be significant expenses not covered by the bonding. Middletown taxpayers need to understand and weigh in these substantial associated costs down the road. Life cycle costs of this product should be explained, and compared to life cycle costs for our current fields and organic fields.
The Best Solution?
Given all the potential risks and high costs, is artificial turf the best solution for the City’s playing fields? Do we really want to expose our children to this product laden with toxic chemicals? Is it really necessary to prove a connection between playing on artificial turf and health concerns before we take the risks seriously? How long do we wish to experiment with our children?
We would argue that organic grass fields are the safest option, and we should PLAY IT SAFE.
What can you do to help keep our children safe? Please contact the Mayor, Common Council Members, and the Public Works Department about your concerns, and urge them to make the switch to organically maintained playing fields.
Submitted by Middletown Ecoin (Environmental Collective Impact Network)
For more information email playitsafeMiddletown@gmail.com, and consult the EHHI website www.ehhi.org for reports and rebuttals.