Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On The Legislative Front: Parks Department Halts Crumb Rubber In Synthetic Turf

Council Member James would like to express her satisfaction with Mayor Bloomberg and the Parks Department for their changed stance on the use of crumb rubber (made from recycled tires) in artificial or synthetic turf in New York City parks and schools.

Since 1997, New York City installed 78 artificial turf fields, and as of mid-2008, another 27 were in design. The dependence on artificial turf by the Parks Department and the Board of Education was due to inadequate expense funding; the synthetic turfs generally require less supervision and resources to maintain, and are more resistant to everyday use.

Artificial or synthetic turf is constructed by applying infill tops onto a synthetic turf surface. The "crumb rubber" infill, often in tiny pellets, settles into the turf between the blades of grass to hold down the turf and assist in drainage. The pellets can be transported unknowingly quite easily. Crumb rubber infill can contain levels of lead and other substances, although the NYC Parks Department states that the crumb rubber infill widely used in NYC is non-toxic and safe for use.

Artificial or synthetic turf itself has been linked to cancer and birth defects, and it has been said to act as a developmental inhibitor and adversely affect asthma. Tests performed on NYC parks found polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that would be considered hazardous by the State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) if those levels were found in actual dirt.

Another concern is the amount of heat radiating from artificial turf fields. Surface temperatures taken on artificial turf fields on hot days during summer 2007 regularly reached 140 degrees to over 155 degrees. Natural grass, by comparison, measured as low as 83.3 degrees cooler. The heat of synthetic turf fields has been as issue in the past throughout New York City.

Council Members Baez, James, Gioia, and Mark-Viverito sponsored legislation prohibiting the use of certain synthetic or artificial turf throughout NYC recreational areas. Int. 739-2008 may be found here (http://webdocs.nyccouncil.info/textfiles/Int%200739-2008.htm?CFID=6422&CFTOKEN=41480967). On Monday, February 9, 2009, the Parks Committee within the New York City Council held a hearing that included reviewing the before mentioned legislation.

The Daily News today reports that the Bloomberg administration has halted use of crumb rubber infill in artificial turf in NYC parks and schools.

Council Member James considers this a victory for all New York City residents, and specifically the children who will be playing in our public parks and schools come the spring. Removing this harmful surface from NYC artificial turf is the first step in examining the safety of artificial or synthetic turf itself.

Council Member James has additionally co-sponsored Int. 918-2008, which relates to the surface areas of playgrounds and playing fields (here: http://webdocs.nyccouncil.info/textfiles/Int%200918-2009.htm?CFID=6422&CFTOKEN=41480967), and Res. 1782-2009, which calls 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). (See here: http://webdocs.nyccouncil.info/textfiles/Res%201782-2009.htm?CFID=6422&CFTOKEN=41480967)

If you are interested in learning more about this issue, you should read the following articles-
2/15/2008- The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/15/nyregion/15turf.html)
2/10/2009- The Daily News (http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2009/02/09/2009-02-09_city_yields_ground_on_crumb_rubber_in_tu.html)


turfboss said...

How about viewing these installations as something that pays for itself in the first 4 to 5 years based on savings in maintenance costs and hence (from a field standpoint) saves some 50% over the long haul. Yes, they are more expensive up front but the ROI and COO figures make them a viable option.

Aja Worthy-Davis said...

Turfboss, you make an economic-based argument. We believe in good economics, and (of course) the idea of saving the City money at this time is attractive. This bill, however, came into place long before the budget crisis really hit NYC is a major way; even if that wasn’t the case, I’m sure Tish would agree that the safety of children who play in NYC parks comes before saving the City money (in the short or long run). Synthetic turf- such as it is- is simply unsafe.

We have not suggested that the City spend thousands upon thousands placing (and maintaining) full fields of fresh grass in every single recreational area; we simply feel that an unsafe practice (regardless of how cost-effective) in unacceptable. Let’s think about it this way, when a “100% healthy and safe” (meaning a material that is free of harmful chemicals and heat-resistant) synthetic turf is developed, we’ll be behind it.

Anonymous said...

My kids play on artificial turf. I have developed a protective device that keeps crumb rubber away from a player's skin while they play on artificial turf. To learn more visit www.thedebrisinhibitor.com

maxwell said...

congrats on keeping any more of that hot plastic out of our parks!

Aja Worthy-Davis said...

ATTENTION: Some changes were made to the post the reflect the correct and most up-to-date information concerning this issue. The administration has halted the use of crumb rubber infill made from recycled tires in artificial turf. Our bill Int. 739 calls for the crumb rubber to be removed and replaced with an alternative material. Alternative materials could be coconut husks, cork, etc. Int. 918 addresses recreational surface areas such as artificial turf itself and rubber mats.

Maxwell, the Debris Inhibitor sounds like a pretty awesome idea! Have you approaches athletic teams with the product yet?