NY Daily News reports “Lead in [artificial] turf shuts East Harlem field”

You know that artificial turf that Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has advocated for and previously wouldn’t consider had any problems, to the point where it’s been installed in over 90 ballfields and parks across New York City? This despite the fact that in New Jersey they closed two ball fields when high levels of lead were found. Well, now those same high levels have been found in a field in East Harlem and it’s been closed, according to today’s New York Daily News.

Frank Lombardi reports:

An East soccer field has been closed after elevated lead levels were detected in the synthetic turf installed five years ago, park officials said Monday.

The exact cause of the lead contamination at Thomas Jefferson Park, at First Ave. and E. 113th St., is not known, according to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

But Geoffrey Croft, a park advocate and frequent critic, blamed the lead contamination on the city’s use of a type of synthetic turf that includes a cushion of pulverized tires, known as crumb-rubber infill.

There’s this reassuring comment from the Assistant Commissioner Nancy Clark, “health effects from previous exposures are unlikely.” Right. Lead exposure can cause brain damage and other illnesses.

However, even after being alerted to the two fields in New Jersey being closed back in April, Parks Commissioner Benepe was quoted in Metro: “There’s no doubt in my mind it’s safe.”

Tell me why we are entrusting our city’s natural parks, public spaces, environment and wildlife to this public official’s control. There is no other way to say it. While I believe that the Parks Commissioner is ultimately under direction from Mayor Bloomberg and has too minimal a budget to work with, there are just too many questionable statements and actions to feel comfortable with his leadership of the parks in our city.  (What’s happened at Washington Square Parkthe manipulations, the lack of transparency … – alone would cause most anyone to want a new person in charge.) Which leads me to wonder…

Why should we trust the Parks Department (and Commissioner Benepe) when they say there is some new version of artificial turf to be used in Washington Square Park, and other locations across New York City, that’s “not infill rubber,” that’s better?

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  1. For more information on this problem and a citing from Congresswoman DeLauro’s letter to the CSPC as well as the New Jersey School of Medicine and Dentistry article which corroborates your comments – go to our blog at http://www.syntheticturfmd.com (as well as our website). There is a solution to this crumb rubber problem and it is an anti-microbial infill called Organite(TM) which we use in our turf instead of the crumb rubber infill. This is a tough uphill battle for us (TargaPro) fighting the 800 pound gorilla called the Synthetic Turf Council which is controlled by the big three (or four) turf companies – Field Turf, SprinTurf, SportExe and General Sports (AstroTurf). A two main reasons for their reluctance to agree that there may be a problem – is the following:

    (1) that all the fields they have installed would wind up being tested – and those fields installed more than a couple of years ago would likely all be found to be contaminated with lead in the turf filers (like the fields in NJ) and they will likely find many carcinogen run off problems from the decomposition (break down) of the fibers as well. Also, if they ever get around to doing the crumb rubber testing properly (as the NJMDS tests) they will for sure find high levels of carcinogens in the crumb rubber —

    (2) the second reason is economic – most all the turfs being sold are in the 40 oz face weight range (and for Field Turf – are sewn on a 3/4 inch stitch guage – space between the roows – and are 2 to 2.5 inches in height). The infill requirements on such a turf require lots and lots of infill – again in the Field Turf example – 3 pounds of crumb rubber and 6 pounds of Silica Sand (also a carciongen producing product and banned in California if not posted as hazardous materials). Other manufacturers use only rubber – but 3 to 5 pounds worth – some use only sand – some other use a combination like Field Turf. The problem is the turf is not dense enough to support the alternative infills with it costing them a fortune. Crumb rubber is roughly $0.20/pound – the Organite is more like $0,70/pound. Cost differences are made up in two ways – no biweekly topical applications of an anti-microbial are required with the Organite – saving some $12,000 a year ($120,000 over the 10 year life of the product) and the material is disposable at the dump with out hazardous material dump charges – (the crumb rubber infill and Urethane backed turf product of a recent 27,000 sq foot field in California had to be handled as hazardous materials at a cost of over $200,000 for disposal – not counting the labor to remove the field and move it to the dump.

    TargaPro has a product (The EcoGreen66(tm)) that is ecologically safe and environmental sustainable (no lead in the fibers, no urethane in the turf manufacture, and no carcinogen producing infill) and hence is totally recyclable. The turf is a 1.5 inch high turf sewn on a 3/8 inch stitch gage and has a face weight of 66 ounces – making the turf almost 4 times as dense as the industry standards – it therefore requires only 1.2 pounds of infill and is actually less costly than the competition.

    We have had a lot of interest recently from Architectural and Engineering firms who are designing “Green” solutions and are looking for just our solution. We can provide LEED points becasue of all the environmental issues we arddress.

    Keep up the good work – keep the pressure on the people who (it would appear) must have some vested interest in seeing these dangerous fields continue to get installed. The real problem is the Big Boys have gotten to the CSPC, the CDC with flawed tests and the power of the marketing arms as well as to the individuals making the decisions for fields (like Benepe) by giving them fields at reduced rates in order to get them all – or by donating a field to some entity and hence are being paid back by the awards for all the other fields in the municipalities.

  2. cat

     /  December 24, 2008


    Thank you! This is most interesting information. Will check out your site. Appreciate the detailed background on the industry.


    WSP Blog.

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