NYC Parks Department Sticking to Pro-Turf Stance Despite Incomplete Answers from “Review”

The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released its draft report (officially termed a “literature review”) on artificial turf.

The New York Times reports today that the the report “conducted on behalf of the Bloomberg administration says that there is no scientific evidence that synthetic turf fields in New York pose major health hazards for people playing on them.”

The Times piece, written by Timothy Williams, states, “Critics, however, said the study by TRC Companies, an engineering, consulting and construction management company based in Connecticut, would not quell concerns about artificial turf because the analysis was only a review of previous scientific studies and included no original research.

The surface has been used for decades as a playing surface for professional and collegiate athletes, but has proliferated more recently in public parks and schools around the nation as a cost-effective, more durable alternative to grass.

The city’s parks department said that it had installed 77 turf fields since 1997 and that it planned on putting in 23 more.”

NY City Council Members have called for a moratorium on the use of this substance because of health concerns. As the Times notes:

At the heart of the dispute is whether synthetic turf, particularly crumb rubber fields made from recycled tires, places athletes at risk because of the presence of lead and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which have caused cancer and organ damage in animals and may be a cancer risk to people if they are exposed over a long period.

Researchers, however, have not determined conclusively how easily the hydrocarbons — which are also found in toys and other materials — can be absorbed by the human body.

Critics of the fields also say turf creates “heat islands” that can climb as high as 170 degrees because the synthetic surface absorbs sunlight and emits heat. There are also concerns that the fields may exacerbate the risk of serious sports-related injuries.

However, it’s not just athletes who are exposed to this. Bill Crain, a developmental psychologist who works at City College, is one of the leaders exposing these potential problems in our City parks, collaborating with Dr. Jim Zhang. As he reported in his testimony before the City Council, among other concerns, children have been finding the rubber pellets from the parks in their shoes. Crain also researches and writes about the importance of “natural settings” and how they benefit children’s psychological development. (For more information on this, write to him at BillCrain -at- aol.com.)

We also have no idea how this impacts the natural environment and wildlife – squirrels and birds primarily – who interact with this synthetic surface that has been placed in way too many of our city Parks.

Crain, who has not yet seen the report, stated in an email, “The essential research–on the bioavailability of toxicants in the turf (whether they can be absorbed into the body)–has yet to be done to any significant degree. Until we have more research, a moratorium on new installations is a minimum and essential step in the interest of public health.”

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