Heard At City Hall on Artificial Turf: “But Where Will the Tires Go?” … Mayor Bloomberg says this is “a made-up story”

According to a scrap tire recycler who spoke at the New York City Council hearing on artificial turf and rubber “safety surface” mats yesterday at City Hall, 13% of all scrap tires in New York State are used to create artificial turf. If the City Council passes a bill placing a moratorium on “crumb rubber” Turf installations in the city – which is what is being proposed – the speaker asked, “Where will the tires that would have gone to the process… where will they go?”

Now, yes, it’s true that this is technically reuse, one of the environmental tenets, and recycling, but I think that there are other environmental as well as serious health concerns that need to take precedence. They’ll find markets for the tires or find a way to dispose of them responsibly. The issue here is there are too many unknowns and a bunch of frightening knowns. Lead, cadmium, and other chemicals are in these materials. Children should not be exposed to these chemicals. The turf fields get way too hot (165 degrees on a hot day). And we just don’t know how they impact any of us, much less the birds and wildlife, dogs and other animals in our parks and public spaces.

In a city with limited green space, should we be limiting our connection with nature? The allure, the smell of, the interaction with freshly cut grass? The imperfections and uniqueness of walking and playing on fresh grass vs. a lifeless artificial surface?

Then, there’s Mayor Bloomberg.

In today’s New York Daily News (and… is it me, or does he just get MORE. ARROGANT. EVERY. DAY. ?), our CEO Mayor “blasted the controversy yesterday as ‘a made-up story’ and fumed that ‘the real risk is [in] not getting the kids to the park’ to exercise and avoid obesity.”

Right. That’s the real risk. (See 2nd paragraph.) What about giving the Parks Department an adequate budget so they could hire workers to take care of our Parks properly? Instead of giving money endlessly to corporate interests (and, believe me, the “field turf” industry was out in force at the City Council hearing), what about giving it to our city workers? Bolstering our city that way? In the last 20 years, the number of NYC Parks Department workers has been cut by 66%.

First Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanaugh told the Council that it costs $800,000-$1 million to install an artificial turf field. It costs $300,000 to $400,000 to install a natural grass field. It costs $14,000 a year to maintain a natural turf field. No figure was given for the cost to maintain an artificial turf field which needs to be replaced every ten years.

The math does not add up. How is this benefiting the city economically? Why can’t we use natural grass and hire workers to maintain it (without pesticides and herbicides)? What is wrong with this picture?

Note: I am not advocating for any artificial turf, with or without “crumb rubber.” No one knows enough about any of these materials. We need to go back to grass and dirt and work with the natural environment. I certainly don’t think artificial turf is needed at Washington Square Park around the Mounds – which is where it is being proposed.

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NY City Council to hold Public Hearing Monday, Feb. 9th Regarding Banning use of Artificial Turf and Additional Testing on Rubber Mats

The Parks & Recreation Committee of the New York City Council will hold a public hearing on Monday, February 9, at 10 AM in the Council Chambers at City Hall around eliminating use of artificial turf in NYC parks and fields (already in ‘play’ in over 90 locations!) and requiring temperature testing (and possibly banning) of “safety surface” (you know, those rubber mats that kids have burned their feet on…) before further usage. Both are being considered for use at Washington Square Park in Phase 2 of the Park’s redesign.

Meeting details and link to actual resolutions:

Details: Int 739 – By Council Members Baez, James, Gioia, Mark-Viverito, Gonzalez, Palma and Arroyo –

A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to prohibiting the use of certain synthetic turf on surfaces used for recreational purposes.

Int 896 – By Council Members de Blasio, Lappin, Barron, Brewer, Gerson, Gonzalez and James –

A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring signage warning of heat dangers of playground mats.

Int 918 – By Council Member Stewart –

A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the surface areas of playgrounds and playing fields.

Res 1782 – By Council Member Mark-Viverito – Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to amend Section 399-dd of the General Business Law to allow municipalities to enact local laws regarding playground equipment and the
Department of Parks and Recreation to require a temperature test for all equipment installed in parks and playgrounds, including safety surfacing, and to prohibit such materials from being installed that pose a health or burn danger to exposed skin.

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?

On Artificial Turf —

The entry below was taken from a July 9th post here at Washington Square Park Blog on artificial turf. Although the Parks Department insists there is a new and better version they are using, it’s still questionable. As reported in Wednesday’s (12/10) entry, the Parks Department wants to place artificial turf around the Mounds (southwestern area) at Washington Square Park.

As you’ll read below, the New York Daily News reports the results of testing done by NYC Park Advocates. Upon testing some of the “new” turf at Macomb Dams Park (one of the Parks in the Bronx obliterated and split into pieces to pave the way – literally – for Yankee Stadium), the organization found it still reached 160 degrees. In the meantime, I am looking into this “new” “not infill rubber” material to get some other feedback on it. At the time of this entry, artificial turf had been placed in 94 locations across New York City. … Entry follows

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In the July 5th NY Daily News, Jeff Wilkins and Elizabeth Hays report: “Artificial turf installed in city fields can heat up to a blistering 162 degrees even on a mild summer day, a Daily News investigation has found.” This is twice as high as the temperature of natural grass.

The writers encountered 9 year old Yannick Pena at Macombs Dam Park in the Bronx after he walked on the artificial turf there. He said, “My feet are burning! I had to dump cold water on my shoes just to walk around.”

Other than the heat, there are other problems: “Earlier this year, The News reported concerns that the millions of tiny crumbs contain heavy metals like lead and cadmium, as well as volatile organic compounds and other chemicals.”

Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh said the city would begin using a “carpet-style turf” and “plans to stop using the crumb-rubber infill because of excessive heat.”

However, in testing a field at Macombs Dam Park that has the “new turf,” The Daily News found that it also registered “as high as 160 degrees.”

In the July 9th Metro NY, Patrick Arden reports new signs are now appearing in the NYC parks and ballfields that contain artificial turf. The signs state:

This field can get hot on warm, sunny days. If you experience symptoms of heat-related illness, such as dizziness, weakness, headache, vomiting, or muscle cramps, move to a shaded area. Drink water, rest, and seek medical attention if you do not feel better.

Metro’s investigation, also with the assistance of NYC Park Advocates, backed up the Daily News report: “One day last month, the artificial turf at Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza was 165.5 degrees, while a nearby plot of grass measured just 83 degrees. Waves of heat rose from the field.”

Will the Parks Department follow the logical route and abandon their turf dream of installing these substances in 68 more locations? All evidence points to the contrary.

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A longer version of this post originally appeared July 9th, 2008: “NYC Parks Department Motto: Stick to the plans no matter how irrational or unwelcome they are.”

Expert Doctor on Children’s Health Raises Alarm on Synthetic Turf – What will it take to reach Parks Commissioner Benepe?

Dr. Philip Landrigan is a respected pediatrician and expert on children’s health at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in NYC. He has written a letter urging a moratorium and raising alarming concerns on artificial turf to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.

No word on whether this same letter has been sent to the NYC Department of Health or NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe (who seems to have a difficult time reversing course no matter how stunning the evidence). NYC, under Commissioner Benepe’s direction, has installed 94 artificial turf fields thus far in parks and ball fields. Despite concerns, plans move forward to install 68 additional turf fields across New York City.

Dr. Landrigan writes:

Synthetic turf fields have proliferated in recent years, and there are now more than several hundred of these installations in Connecticut and in other states up and down the East Coast. Almost no assessment of the potential hazards to children’s health of synthetic turf fields was undertaken before these fields were constructed. The stated need for their installation was a desire to improve the quality and enhance the drainage of playing fields coupled with a strong impetus to get more kids out and exercising as a way to combat the obesity epidemic.

These are laudable goals. The problem is that they were pursued without any consideration of alternatives or analysis of potential negative consequences. There was insufficient due diligence. The result now is that we are in a situation in which a number of these very expensive fields have been installed, and we are suddenly and belatedly beginning to realize that they may lead to health problems.

His recommendation is as follows:

1. A moratorium on installation of new synthetic turf fields until a careful, competent, independent study of their potential hazards has been conducted and reported to the public;

2. Immediate study of the suspected chemical hazards of synthetic turf fields.

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Dr. Landrigan’s Full Letter Outlining His Concerns Follows: (more…)

NYC Parks Department Motto: Stick to the plans, no matter how irrational or unwelcome they are.

AstroLand Park, Coney Island

AstroLand Park, Coney Island

The NYC Parks Department never ceases to amaze. Operates as a pure business model. Promotes privatization ventures without fail. Destroys thousands of mature city trees to put forth splashy expensive redesigns of parks. Pitches “MillionTreesNYC” “initiative” with little planning given as to how to care for and maintain the trees. Lets parks fall into disrepair so communities are desperate for change. Redesigns parks that don’t need redesign. Corporate giveaways of parks in areas where they are most needed (see: Yankees. The Bronx.) and the city pays for the new parks. Reduction in public space. No concern for community mandates or input. Manipulates Community Boards, NY City Council, and other city agencies by lack of transparency and purposefully withholding information and misstating plans.

If Mayor Bloomberg did not view city Parks as corporatizing entities that are exploited for their real estate value to property owners, businesses and tourism, and was looking for someone to care for and cherish our Parkland, NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe would be out of a job and working for, say, Chase Manhattan, Madison Square Garden, or, perhaps, Bloomberg LP.

If there isn’t enough confirmation that the Parks Department digs in its heels and won’t abandon its plans no matter what damming evidence is in front of the Commissioner … than take the recent articles about artificial turf, that synthetic substance made from recycled tires that has been placed in 94 parks and ballfields across NYC’s five boroughs thus far.

Today’s Metro NY follows up a story in Saturday’s New York Daily News investigating the high temperatures the artificial turf reaches when a child, adult or animal walks or plays on it.

In Saturday’s (7/5) NY Daily News, Jeff Wilkins and Elizabeth Hays report: “Artificial turf installed in city fields can heat up to a blistering 162 degrees even on a mild summer day, a Daily News investigation has found.” This is twice as high as the temperature of natural grass.

The writers encountered 9 year old Yannick Pena at Macombs Dam Park in the Bronx after he walked on the artificial turf there. He said, “My feet are burning! I had to dump cold water on my shoes just to walk around.”

What would Commissioner Benepe say to that? Commissioner Benepe is, after all, a big advocate of synthetic turf.

Well, Liam Kavanagh, first deputy Parks Commissioner, told the News: “The temperatures can get very high during the heat of the day. But people are smart. They are not going to use a place that is uncomfortable to play on.”

Other than the heat, there are other problems: “Earlier this year, The News reported concerns that the millions of tiny crumbs contain heavy metals like lead and cadmium, as well as volatile organic compounds and other chemicals.”

Deputy Commissioner Kavanagh said the city would begin using a “carpet-style turf” and “plans to stop using the crumb-rubber infill because of excessive heat.”

However, in testing a field at Macombs Dam Park that has the “new turf,” The Daily News found that it also registered “as high as 160 degrees.”

In today’s Metro NY, Patrick Arden reports new signs are now appearing in the NYC parks and ballfields that contain artificial turf. The signs state: “This field can get hot on warm, sunny days. If you experience symptoms of heat-related illness, such as dizziness, weakness, headache, vomiting, or muscle cramps, move to a shaded area. Drink water, rest, and seek medical attention if you do not feel better.

Metro’s investigation backed up the Daily News report, “One day last month, the artificial turf at Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza was 165.5 degrees, while a nearby plot of grass measured just 83 degrees. Waves of heat rose from the field.”

Will the Parks Department follow the logical route and abandon their turf dream of installing these substances in 68 more locations? All evidence points to the contrary.

NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe responds to NY Times’ Op-Ed on Ridgewood Reservoir


You really have to read between the lines when New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe speaks about plans he wishes to implement in our city parks.

Last week, the New York Times printed Commissioner Benepe’s letter in response to the excellent Op-Ed that Robert Kennedy Jr. and NYC Comptroller William Thompson Jr. wrote defending the natural beauty of Ridgewood Reservoir which lies on the Queens-Brooklyn border.

Ridgewood Reservoir, at one time the source of the water supply for the City of Brooklyn, had been abandoned. Natural vegetation arose in the spot and it has become a wildlife habitat. It abuts Highland Park and the two are considered aligned. Commissioner Benepe wishes to destroy the natural habitat that has come to life there, tear down and pave over a large swath, and replace it with landscaped areas and artificial turf fields.

Printed below is Commissioner Benepe’s letter and some points in response. Note: Commissioner Benepe’s method is typically not to respond to the main criticisms but to reiterate his selling points. Save Ridgewood Reservoir had some good counterpoints to his letter also which I’ve interspersed below.

  • To the Editor:
  • One of the key goals of PlaNYC, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s far-reaching plan to fight global warming and create a more livable city, is to ensure that every New Yorker lives within a 10-minute walk of a park or open space.

Counterpoint: Parks Department cuts down thousands of City’s Mature Trees, Vegetation

If this was accurate, then why has the New York City Parks Department, under Commissioner Benepe and Mayor Bloomberg, not preserved the mature trees in city parks? Instead, as they plan with Ridgewood Reservoir, they have been cutting down significant numbers (thousands) of mature trees in parks in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens solely because they are in the way of their redesign plans.

Save Ridgewood Reservoir commented: A study showed the cooling effect of trees and other vegetation, an effect that would be severely diminished if Commissioner Benepe cut down the trees and other plants within any of the reservoir’s basins. In fact, an association of manufacturers of artificial recreational surfaces acknowledges that artificial turf surface temperatures can be as much as 30 degrees hotter than natural turf. In his haste to replace the city park’s natural surface fields with artificial material, Commissioner Benepe is clearly working against his boss’s stated goal.

  • Highland Park in Queens is one of eight large underdeveloped parks where we are expanding access to help achieve this goal.

Counterpoint: Parks are not “underdeveloped” but are undermaintained

The New York City Parks Department’s has a pattern: Forego necessary repairs and maintenance within a city park for a long period of time. The community inevitably becomes desperate for something to be done. At that point, the Parks Department swoops in with a plan for a total (typically unwelcome) redesign of that park. (See: Washington Square Park.)

For an underfunded City Agency, the Parks Department ought to focus on maintenance and repair instead of elaborate reconstructions. However, that’s not quite as splashy.

As Save Ridgewood Reservoir stated, “Highland Park is not underdeveloped, it’s under maintained. … Instead of fixing the obvious problems and improving an existing park, the city would rather spend $40 million on creating another park.

  • As with all of these projects, the city holds listening sessions with community residents to incorporate their input into the design.

Counterpoint: City’s “listening sessions” do not result in “input” from community being incorporated into design

Anyone who has experienced a Parks Department “listening session” soon realizes that the Parks Department “listening sessions” are held at the point that the Parks Department has already conjured up and blueprinted their plans.

  • Many options have been discussed, including one with athletic fields in a small area of the 50-acre Ridgewood Reservoir, an area that is composed primarily of invasive trees and vines that threaten the park’s ecological balance.

Counterpoint: Parks’ “ecological balances” threatened by NYC Parks Department

Save Ridgewood Reservoir rebuts this: “Invasive species are in every park in NYC and, in some parks, are controlled by long-term management plans. I guess that concept hasn’t occurred to the commissioner. The only thing that threatens this ‘park’s ecological balance’ is the removal of trees so that artificial turf fields can be installed.”

  • As we begin the design process, we look forward to continued collaboration with the community and with all interested New Yorkers in order to build the best possible park.
  • Adrian Benepe, Commissioner, Department of Parks and Recreation
    New York

Counterpoint: Parks Department’s “Collaboration” with communities non-existent

At Washington Square Park, Manhattan Community Board 2 ultimately – but quietly – rescinded its approval of the Parks Department’s plans (after approving them twice). Unfortunately, Commissioner Benepe still uses the initial “approval” as a selling point for his and Mayor Bloomberg’s “plans” for the park. At the heart of it, the community at large never approved of the redesign plans for this park. Their ideas and input were not implemented into the design except in ways that were minimal at best.

Save Ridgewood Reservoir states: “Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir fall within Queens Community Board 5 and Brooklyn Community Board 5. Both boards recently voted to oppose development within the basins and support the mission of the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance.”

In the News… NYU Student goes for home run at graduation at Yankee Stadium — First time in 32 years graduation not held at Washington Sq Pk

Yesterday, for the first time in 32 years, NYU Students NYU Student at Yankee Stadium Graduation May 14, 08graduated somewhere other than Washington Square Park, and one ambitious student, William Lopez, decided to try for a home run at replacement graduation site, Yankee Stadium. He got to third base before he was tackled by a security guard. (Seriously, he got that far. They couldn’t have let him score a home run?)

As the Daily News reported, “NYU held the ceremony at the Stadium because of ongoing construction at Washington Square Park, where previous graduation ceremonies had been held.”

Lopez is on the cover of many of the papers (Daily News, Metro) and was cheered on by fellow NYU graduates for his pants-less act.

For a picture of it, see the cover of Metro in which Patrick Arden also has an alarming cover story, “City gives a pass to Toxic Turf Ballfields: Shrugs off data indicating heat would release gases from rubber base.”

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.”

In the News… Parks in Bronx…NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe: artificial turf is “safe”

Metro NY reporter Patrick Arden’s consistent reporting on the NYC Parks Department is a welcome presence.

In today’s edition of Metro, Arden reports that there’s some news about the Yankee Stadium “replacement parkland” in the Bronx.

On Friday, the Bloomberg administration opened a new artificial-turf ballfield on an old schoolyard here and billed it as “the first Yankee redevelopment park.”

The city had promised to create replacement parks in the South Bronx to make up for the 25 acres of parkland lost to the new Yankee Stadium project.

Unfortunately, as Arden reports, the new Park is one mile away from the previous parks (Macombs and Mullaly Parks) and in a another neighborhood.

(Didn’t Mayor Bloomberg announce as part of “PlaNYC 2030” that everyone in New York City should be within ten minutes of a park? … Unless, I gather, they want to build a corporate ballpark there.)

It seems artificial turf is questionable to everyone except for Parks Commissioner Benepe. The Metro article also states:

Last week, two artificial turf fields were closed by New Jersey health officials after detecting high levels of lead. Lead can cause brain damage and other illnesses.

While the concerns arose from surface coloring and airborne dust, many turf fields use crumbled tire rubber, which has also been found to contain lead.

The city’s Health Department is currently compiling its own report.

“There’s no doubt in my mind it’s safe,” said Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

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To read more, previous entries covered the Yankee Stadium situation in the Bronx (“Play Ball: How New York City Destroyed Two Bronx Parks”) and also the City Council initiative to end use of artificial turf in our city Parks.