Chelsea Now Weekly Uncovers the Real Dirt on Artificial Turf; Turf Scheduled for the Mounds at WSP in Phase III

Chelsea Now has a great story about artificial turf in this week’s issue. Washington Square Park is scheduled to get artificial turf at the base of the Mounds (now scheduled for Phase III construction), despite the fact that pretty much everyone is against it.

Excerpts from Chelsea Now article: Hot Footing It: The heat is on artificial turf August 24, 2011

As reported in the March article, Geoffrey Croft (head of the watchdog group, NYC Park Advocates) took, before noon, temperature readings at a dozen New York City parks in July 2010. Artificial turf fields measured over 170 degrees — the highest temperature recorded in his three years of monitoring. By 9:15am, the temperature had already risen to over 140 degrees. “Young children are particularly susceptible, as it can take only two seconds to burn on solid surfaces greater than 140 degrees, according to doctors,” said Croft. …

… “for ten years, the city put down this surface without doing a single test,” said Croft. Patrick Arden, in his article on the dangers of artificial turf, wrote, “Several credible studies had found the crumb rubber contains known human carcinogens and neurotoxic chemicals, as well as lead, chromium and arsenic” (City Limits magazine, “Was New York City’s Shift to Artificial Grass a 300-Million-Dollar Mistake? A Risky Play,” September 2010).

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Arden ascertained that a group of doctors at Mt. Sinai Hospital identified several “proven and potential” hazards of synthetic turf made from recycled tires: “excessive heat,” with field temperatures reaching as high as 172 degrees; MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant staph infection that can be acquired through “turf burns;” and chemical exposures.

The Astroturf-style carpet at Chelsea Park and the crumb rubber infill turf at J.J. Walker were both cited for elevated lead levels.  …

According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene website’s “Fact Sheet on Synthetic Turf Used in Athletic Fields and Play Areas,” the city is now using “carpet-style or alternative infill materials on all new fields, and implementing protocols to inspect, test and replace any existing synthetic turf fields that may age or deteriorate.” They are “using strict purchasing protocols to select the best synthetic turf products and requiring suppliers to provide information on chemical content, heating absorbency properties, environmental factors and health and safety issues.”

“We forced the city to stop using recycled tires,” said Croft. “City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee, introduced a few bills that really helped. It was a first step. Up to then, Adrian Benepe [the Parks Commissioner] made fun of it.” …

I am sure part of the reason is maintenance related, but to me that is not a solution,” said Viverito, “and I don’t buy it half the time.” She pointed out that in the “vast parks system” less than .03 percent goes to parks. “If it is the intent to have a park where people can hang out, when the turf can reach past 130 degrees, this is not a good idea. It is counterproductive to what a passive space is. You want to encourage people to come into the park, not turn them away.” …

Viverito declared, “We will continue to put pressure on this administration to do the right thing. It has worked sometimes. Other times they have put their heels to the ground and are resistant.

There’s much more at the article including quotes from athletes using the fields that are quite interesting!

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Previous on WSP Blog: Heard at City Council Hearings on Artificial Turf: “But Where Will the Tires go?”; Mayor Bloomberg says this is “a made-up story” February 10, 2009

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.

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?

Turfs Almost Up for Parks Department

It’s a start. The New York City Council is at last showing some oversight of the Parks Department — around artificial turf. This substance has been placed by NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe in over 130 natural soil and grass fields across the five boroughs. (Thankfully, not at Washington Square Park – thus far.) People have questioned artificial turf being used in place of grass, for a number of reasons beginning with the fact that it sounds like a really bad idea – after all, it’s made from recycled rubber tires. But there are genuine health and environmental concerns.

Bill Crain, a developmental psychologist who works at City College, has been one of the leaders in exposing these potential problems. As he outlined to the City Council in December, when he first went over to Riverside Park to check on the synthetic turf installed in 2006, he was surprised to find the rubber granules so prevalent on the surface of the turf. A boy came over and said to him, “I get them in my shoes and they come out when I take them off at night.”

Yesterday, an article appeared in the New York Daily News, “Council Members push for removal of pulverized tires from city parks,”and outlines a bill that is being proposed by some City Council members which would require the “estimated 30 million pounds” of synthetic turf out of city parks — to be removed within a year and alternatives sought based on “unanswered questions around health concerns.”

When I first wrote about artificial turf, amidst other problems with NYC’s Parks Department, a p.r. person from Atlanta wrote to me letting me know that she did not think I accurately represented the facts — that no state or federal agency has banned or restricted it. (Well, cigarettes were promoted for a long time too without warnings from the government so I don’t know if that’s the strongest argument.) She stated that synthetic turf was great for athletes in the communities because they can now practice year round and even in rain. (!)

So … is the lesson that when you’re young you get to frolick around on your artificial turf rain or shine? … Is it so terrible to learn that sometimes we have to alter our schedules because of mother nature? Probably best when we are also playing amidst “mother nature” and not along potentially harmful synthetic turf — which I hope we will see out of our city Parks soon.

**If you’d like more information on Bill Crain’s research with Dr. Jim Zhang on toxic chemicals in synthetic turf, or Crain’s summary of how natural settings benefit children’s psychological development, you can email him at Billcrain -at- aol.com and he will send it to you.