WARNING: Artificial surfaces could be hazardous to your health - JuniperCivic.com
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Originally published in the June 2007 Juniper Berry Magazine

WARNING: Artificial surfaces could be hazardous to your health

Artificial turf at Juniper Valley Park

Do you like the idea of Mayor Bloomberg using members of your family to test the safety of the artificial turf installed in New York City parks? The trouble is, the results may not be available for years, and, by then it may be too late.

Here's the reason for the question in the first sentence:

New York City, through its agency, the New York City Parks Department, plans to install artificial turf in parks throughout its jurisdiction. The material used to manufacture the turf comes from recycled tires.

Several parks in the city have already had the turf installed ‒ including Juniper Valley Park here in Middle Village. The Brennan Field track/soccer/football facility on the western side of the park uses this turf.

Word began to spread that the loose pellets (much smaller than BBs) were collecting in the shoes and on the clothing of youngsters who used the turf for park activities. Park users have described the talcum powder-like dust that floats in the air when the turf is pounded by running, jogging, soccer, football actions, or, just horseplay by youngsters. Park users say it is much like the dust that rises on a dirt road used by an automobile. Anyone in the midst of this cloud is breathing in the particles. Anyone with open wounds, such as scrapes or scratches from rough sports, is collecting these particles in those wounds.

William Crain, a developmental psychologist at CUNY, had heard about the turf, the pellets, and the dust cloud and was concerned. He collected samples of the artificial turf from Riverside Park and sent the samples to Rutgers University for testing in 2006.

The tests revealed amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that exceeded the safety levels established by the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The seriously carcinogenic benzo(a)pyren was observed at more than 8 times the acceptable levels found in soil. New York State would declare a site contaminated if this level of benzo(a)pyren were discovered in ordinary dirt.

Rutgers University chemist Junfeng Zhang conducted the testing. A second test produced the same results. So, Crain and Zhang then wanted to collect additional samples of the pellets in order to conduct further testing to learn if the carcinogens could be absorbed into the human body.

Crain then wrote a letter to NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe explaining his intentions and requesting permission to collect more pellets. Benepe refused permission, and instructed Crain to direct any additional questions to the Parks Department's attorney.

Four months after his September 2006 letter to Benepe, Crain wrote a second letter to Benepe this past January asking that he reconsider his refusal. No reply followed. Perhaps Crain failed to obey Benepe's instruction.

Testing performed by the Norwegian Building Research Institute reached a conclusion similar to that performed by Zhang at Rutgers.

In order to discredit Crain and Zhang, the NYC Parks Department cited two studies, one of which was funded by the Tire Recycling Management Association of Alberta, Canada.

We are not cynical enough to assert that the contract with the turf manufacturer for the amount of $150 million is the explanation for the city's refusal to permit any independent testing of the possible carcinogenic dangers of using the artificial turf.

But, we wonder why a mayor who steamrolls over secondhand smoke or trans fats, and even noise pollution, because of possible dangers, would refuse a free test by an independent laboratory.

Either the turf is a dangerous source of carcinogenic chemicals, or, it is entirely safe.

If the turf is, in fact, dangerous, Parks should cancel the $150 million contract, and look for safe substitutes. Though some might ask: Why is artificial grass better than natural grass? Why must $150 million of our real tax dollars be spent on fake grass? What's the rush, anyway?

Now, maybe fake is actually better than real. Maybe artificial turf is entirely safe. But, why should sovereign citizens in an American city be forced into playing cancer roulette just because some city official prefers fake grass instead of actual grass, and wants to send $150 million of their money to a supplier? Is there any dangerous odor emanating from this contract?

On Saturday and Sunday, June 23rd and June 24th, 2007, serious people from Middle Village, Glendale, Ridgewood, Maspeth, and Elmhurst will come to Juniper Valley Park for the annual Relay for Life walk. The Relay for Life is sponsored by the American Cancer Society to commemorate the victims and survivors of cancer.

The event will ironically be held on the artificial turf of Brennan Field. The police will be present to protect the thousands of participants from harm, while the Mayor and the Parks Department will use the occasion for photo ops and convey their heartfelt hopes that there will soon be a cure for cancer. This will go on while they continue to refuse to allow independent testing for the possible danger of cancer from the very location selected for the commemoration of the victims of cancer.

Where is the NYC Council Parks Committee? What have any members of that committee done to insist on independent testing? All members of that committee are fully aware of the plan to spend $150 million on this contract but strangely have no questions regarding its safety. Feel free to ask them why. Especially Councilman Gallagher, who sits on the Council's Parks Committee and recently expressed his enthusiasm for the planned installation of artificial turf at several parks in our area, including Reiff, Principe and Mafera Parks.

This is your money. This is your Parks Department. This is your city. And, most importantly, this is your health and the health of your family.

So, let loose. Express your anger to the mayor at his refusal to permit independent testing of this artificial turf. Write, phone, email, or visit your elected City Council member and the Speaker, Christine Quinn. All of these people are on your payroll. They report to you. It's time for you to direct them to protect your health and safety.