Monday, January 28, 2008

Double-Take in NYC Over Artificial Turf

The New York City Parks Department appeared last week to be the first city to declare a moratorium on the use of rubber infill from used tires for artificial turf fields. But then the department made an abrupt, partial retraction of the position, instead stating that the city is "exploring the use of carpet-style" nylon turf -- which, it so happens, does not include used tires as a component of the construction.

An independent watchdog group, NYC Park Advocates, published an internal NYC Parks Department memo, dated January 14, in which the department put forward a new design directive "suspending the use of rubber infill synthetic turf in all Parks Capital Projects," according to the New York Times. The NYC Parks Department also asked the Health Department to investigate the potential human health impacts of shredded tires used in many, if not most, artificial turf construction:
On Tuesday, the department said it had asked the city health department to investigate potential health and safety problems associated with the synthetic material, even as it continued to insist the surfaces were safe.
After the disclosure of the internal memo, however, the Parks Department appears to have changed course -- albeit not a full about-face -- according to the New York Metro newspaper:
“I incorrectly made a blanket statement,” said Deputy Commissioner of Capital Projects Amy Freitag. “There is no change in Parks Dept.’s policy on synthetic turf.”

Freitag went on to explain the city is now “replacing” the rubber-infill “standard” and “exploring the use of carpet-style” nylon turf.
Carpet-style nylon turf does not include a layer of shredded, used rubber tires as part of its construction. (I guess she meant to make a carpet, not a blanket, statement.)

Used rubber tires typically contain polycyclic aromatic hyrocarbon molecules, a class of organic molecules of which seven have been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as being "probable human carcinogens." Concerns have been raised about these PAH molecules leaching out into ground water, the rubber layer "crumb" breaking free from the installation, and the PAH potentially entering humans through inhalation. Additional concerns have been raised about the high temperatures artificial turf reach in hot weather, causing a heat island effect.

The possibly conflicting positions emanating from the NY Parks Department might reflect an internal battle. According to the Times, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe "has been a forceful advocate of the safety of turf fields made with shredded rubber."
Mr. Benepe has said the surfaces are safe to play on; have environmental advantages over natural surfaces, which require pesticides, watering and mowing; and are cheaper and easier to maintain than are grass fields.
The NY Metro article also refers to data sheets from the artificial turf manufacturer Forever Green, presumably provided to the Parks Department, which were obtained by the newspaper through New York's Freedom of Information Law. The manufacturer's data sheets read, in part:
“This product contains petroleum oils similar to ones categorized ... as causing skin cancer in mice after prolonged and repeated contact. Any potential hazard can be minimized by using ... protective equipment to avoid skin contact and by washing thoroughly” [after using the fields].
These data sheets appear to indicate the the manufacturer confirms that their product contains particular molecules or compounds that are a known animal carcinogen.

The New York State Legislature is considering a bill that would put a six-month, state-wide moratorium on the use of rubber infill from used tires as part of the construction of artificial turf.

Artificial turf installations have become increasingly popular both among public agencies -- including Boston's Parks and Recreation Department and the City of Newton -- and private institutions, including Boston College, which has proposed three new artificial turf fields for the former St. John's Seminary land purchased from the Archdiocese of Boston.

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