Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Environmental Issues Related to Astro-turf: Carcinogens in the Groundwater

Boston College has proposed athletic fields covered with astro-turf for the Brighton Campus. In particular, astro-turf would be used for the field for the baseball stadium (including its multi-purpose field in the outfield), the field for the softball stadium, and possibly also the multi-purpose field at the corner of Lake Street and Glenmont Road.

I believe that there are very worrisome environmental concerns related to leaching of carcinogenic chemicals from artificial turf into the water table in locations that are susceptible to flooding.

The design of "AstroTurf" contains a rubberized surface layer ("elastic layer") underneath the green "grass":

The rubber within that layer contains Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), that are a large class of more than 100 different organic molecules also found in car soot, cigarette and wood smoke, burnt food on the barbecue, and otherwise incompletely burnt fossil fuels. Humans can be exposed to PAHs through inhalation, drink, food, or via the skin.

Of 17 PAH molecules that have been studied to some extent to date, seven of them have been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as probably carcinogenic to humans. Yes, that means "probably causes cancer to humans." Those molecules studied to date are considered to "exhibit harmful effects that are representative of the PAHs." Various human health impacts due to exposure are not limited to cancer, but also include reproductive and hematological issues.

Even "advanced technology" rubberized surfaces still contain PAHs (albeit a reduced amount) which can leach into the ground water. The presence of PAHs in astro-turf -- and their propensity to crumble and/or leach into the ground-water -- appears to be generally-known both by buyers and sellers of such products. Sweden has banned the use of rubber tires in synthetic turfs. The cities of Wayland and Newton, MA, have both begun investigations into the public health impact of synthetic turf, and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection may be currently looking into the matter.

Here is a long story about problems related to a resident's decision to use astro-turf in his yard in Florida.

But lots of stadiums across the country have astro-turf, you might say, and they don't seem to be causing any problems!

In the presence of adequate drainage, PAH-contaminated water flows into the stormwater drains, and then down the pipes to a wastewater treatment facility.

When the installation site has poor drainage, however, then the contaminated water seeps into the soil, floods neighboring sites, and can enter into the local water table. That is the problem faced by the Brighton Campus fields: poor drainage. The big danger is having the PAH-contaminated stormwater enter into the water table, or otherwise flood, nearby Chandler Pond:

Now that would be a bad impact on the environment.

Astro-turf is simply not needed on this site. Boston College: please do not install it in the flood-prone Brighton Campus. It's just not needed. Strive for Fenway Park or Safeco Field, not the Astrodome.

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