Parks Feels Heat Over Turf - JuniperCivic.com
Serving Middle Village and Maspeth since 1938.

Originally published in the March 2008 Juniper Berry Magazine

Parks Feels Heat Over Turf

Wear and tear on artificial turf

Artificial Surface Temps exceed 140 degrees F

Now the cat's out of the bag! The Bloomberg administration has finally revealed (secretly) that the artificial turf it has been aggressively purchasing and installing may, indeed, be dangerous to our health.

The Juniper Berry wants to acknowledge members of NYC Park Advocates for uncovering the deception perpetrated upon all New Yorkers by the Bloomberg administration. [Visit: www.nycparkadvocates.org]

In late January, in a major reversal of New York City policy, the Department of Parks and Recreation suspended the future use of rubber infill in artificial turf fields effective immediately, NYC Park Advocates learned after obtaining an internal Parks Department memo. The Department quickly backpedaled, with Deputy Commissioner of Capital Projects Amy Freitag stating that she incorrectly made a blanket statement and that Parks did not ban the use of the infill. A follow-up directive issued by the Department, also obtained by NYC Park Advocates, stated that they were now encouraging (wink) the installation of non-infill nylon carpet turf in lieu of the type containing the rubber pellets for all Asphalt-to-Turf capital projects. On February 21st, the Daily News reported that the Trust for Public Land, who is assisting with the conversion of blacktop schoolyards to faux green spaces, was nixing the use of the crumb rubber infill at future sites. (However, the Parks Department quickly announced their intention to continue to use it at other sites.)

This comes after 10 years of the Parks Department installing more than 30,000,000 pounds of rubber infill throughout our parks. If one tire weighs approximately 25 pounds, then we now have the equivalent of 1,200,000 ground-up tires stored in our parks.

This also comes after several years of warnings to the mayor that this artificial turf may cause cancer. The Mayor and his appointees brushed off the concerns of citizens, vigorously asserting that the material is perfectly safe. The Parks Department and Dennis Gallagher stubbornly referred to statements in the July 2003 Birkholz study claiming that the particles in the rubber pellets could be ingested into the body harmlessly. The trouble is that this Birkholz study is the product of funding by the tire recycling industry. You can bet the mortgage on the rigorous, unbiased integrity of a study funded by the manufacturer.

Gallagher, the Parks Department, and the Mayor's office were long ago informed of this report and its funding source.

And, these people want us to believe in their honesty and integrity while they openly deceive the taxpayers.

One perverse argument used by turf proponents is that the cancer-causing ingredients found in the turf's rubber (petroleum-based) pellets are found throughout our communities, producing no harm. So, the reasoning goes, why not introduce another 30 million pounds of cancer-causing ingredients (with more turf coming)?

This argument from an administration that will close down a deli for hanging a sausage in the window ‒ something that's been done without harm for decades. No smoking (even in automobiles). Trans fats ‒ out! Calorie counts on menus ‒ in! Obesity ‒ out!

But, there is an observable pattern visible: This administration prefers to control the individual citizen or small business; it will permit no control or oversight of its own activities. Mayor Bloomberg refuses to answer to the citizens and taxpayers of New York City. You can change that attitude!

WHO ELSE CAN CITIZENS DEPEND ON TO LOOK INTO THIS?

In late May of 2007, I wrote a letter to the New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, asking that she get involved in the questions regarding the use of artificial turf in our parks. That letter contained the following:

The amount of money involved, the discovery of POSSIBLE harmful chemicals, the refusal by the city to permit any additional independent testing, and the acceptance of the "findings" of the product's manufacturer, all add up to an extremely questionable transaction, POSSIBLY fatal to parks users over the years.

The purpose of this letter is to urge you to get involved in the questioning of the plan to use this turf until after an independent test concludes that the product is entirely safe under all conditions in our parks.

Only as this column was underway in February did Ms. Quinn reply. Her reply reflected the same indifference to the dangers as is shown by Mayor Bloomberg. She referred to a study being performed by the NYC Department of Health. This study, slated to be complete by Spring 2008, will consist of reviewing mountains of previous research on the turf.

My letter to Speaker Quinn urged independent testing of the product. This is known as product testing, which occurs every day throughout the nation. The product is chemically examined to determine its component ingredients. Each ingredient is determined to be safe or unsafe, alone or in combination with the other ingredients.

In December of 2007, the NY City Council Parks Committee had a hearing to learn of the safety of the turf and whether to support a six-month citywide moratorium on any additional installation of the turf. Both the NYC Parks Department and Health Department oppose the moratorium, insisting again that the turf is safe.

In the NY State Senate and Assembly, there is a bill proposing a similar six-month statewide moratorium. The Assembly Bill is: A09503, while the Senate Bill is: S06531 sponsored by Senator Jim Alesi.

In separate letters to State Senator Maltese, I recommended a moratorium that lasted until after thorough independent testing was complete, and that the independent testing be performed by a test facility entire disassociated from any NY City or State funding sources. Further, that, if the product is found unsafe, it be removed from any location where it has been installed. Senator Maltese kindly forwarded my letter to Senator Alesi.

For neither the Assembly nor the Senate bill has a vote occurred.

There is a simple question to be answered: Is artificial turf safe or unsafe?

What will be done if the product is determined to be unsafe?

Speaker Quinn's letter made no reference to any moratorium ‒ citywide nor statewide. Yet, the City Council Parks Committee hearing was about the moratorium, and the Assembly and Senate Bills have been in progress since at least November, 2007, a month earlier than the City Council Hearing. Keep in mind that I wrote to Speaker Quinn in May of last year, and her reply was dated February 7th, 2008. It seems to me that the time frame was long enough for Speaker Quinn to have acquainted herself with the issue.

As most readers already know, Speaker Quinn has ambitions to succeed Bloomberg as New York City's next mayor. Her letter is a poor indicator that she possesses the talent required to manage issues in a city like New York.

ANY OTHER PROBLEMS WITH THIS ARTIFICIAL TURF?

In late December 2007, Bloomberg News (founded by Michael Bloomberg in 1981) reported that the dreaded staph infection MRSA might be picked up through skin abrasions received on the artificial turf.

Midday turf temperatures in parks can exceed 140 degrees F. This leads to increased incidence of skin burns and dehydration. Natural grass, however, tends to not only reduce the heat island effect but also dust and particulate matter, which is important for neighborhoods where asthma levels are high.

The chemical smell that the turf emits is on warm days has been known to induce cough in healthy people.

WHAT DO PROFESSIONAL SPORTS TEAMS THINK OF ARTIFICIAL TURF?

The Pittsburg Steelers have decided to continue playing on natural grass at Heinz Field in Pittsburg reports SportingNews.com on February 8. Our number 1 concern is for the safety of our players Team Chairman Dan Rooney told the Pittsburg Tribune Review. We had the leading runner (Willie Parker) in the NFL break his leg, and it had something to do with the (St. Louis) turf.

WHAT OTHER PLANS DOES THE MAYOR HAVE FOR USING THIS TURF?

The Ridgewood Reservoir is a lovely, natural setting next to Highland Park on the Brooklyn-Queens border. After two of the three reservoirs were drained, trees reclaimed the soil. Then migratory birds of numerous species claimed the trees as well as the remaining, third reservoir, which remains under water.

The same Parks Department that prefers artificial turf over natural grass is now aggressively determined to destroy the trees (chasing out the migratory birds) and replace the nature in the basins with even more artificial turf and concrete.

This is to be done in the name of fighting obesity. The plan is to replace this rare location with various athletic fields so that the obese will get off their couch and join a team.

One flaw in the plan: Within yards of the intended mindless destruction, are long neglected ballfields that only need to be rehabilitated (with natural grass, no less). The humdrum rehabilitation will cost nothing anywhere near the $40 to $50 million of your dollars that is being budgeted for the destruction of trees, wildlife and the installation of artificial turf and concrete for obviously unnecessary new playing fields.

From the Parks Department's web site dated Monday, August 25, 2003:

The newly completed state-of-the-art synthetic turf was completed in three months with $1.4 million in funds allocated by the City Council, and the field lies at the center of a track finished last year.

Dennis Gallagher pushed hard for the installation of artificial turf, and has vigorously defended its use claiming it is perfectly safe.

Where will he and the others be when the oncologists are busy with the victims?