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Peter’s Take: Time To Re-Examine Artificial Turf Fields

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

It’s time for Arlington County to conduct a comprehensive re-examination of whether to continue to install new artificial turf fields and if so, when, where, why and what kind.

Background

At its April 16 meeting, the County Board unanimously approved a County staff recommendation to award a $674,000 contract to renovate the synthetic turf field at Greenbrier Park. The field is the home field for Yorktown H.S. It is used for a wide variety of sports and school events.

The current artificial turf field at Greenbrier Park uses a surface containing re-cycled crumb rubber. The new artificial turf field at Greenbrier Park will use an alternative infill, EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer). EPDM is a vulcanized rubber material that County staff believes resembles and plays like crumb rubber, but is not made from recycled materials.

Discussion

All Arlington’s re-cycled crumb rubber fields should be replaced

Arlington should be commended for deciding to replace the crumb-rubber-based artificial turf field at Greenbrier Park.

Arlington County currently has one indoor and 14 outdoor fields with synthetic turf. Thirteen of these 15 synthetic turf fields use styrene butadiene rubber (SBR). This is crumb rubber made from recycled tires. These fields are: Barcroft Park (two fields), Greenbrier Park, Gunston Park (two fields), Long Bridge Park (three fields), Rocky Run Park, Thomas Jefferson Community Center, Virginia Highlands Park, Wakefield High School and Washington-Lee High School.

The newest, most credible evidence suggests that all these Arlington fields containing re-cycled crumb rubber pose too great a health risk. They should be replaced. As recently documented in a Change.org petition:

Montgomery County, MD passed a unanimous Council vote to ban crumb rubber and implement the use of plant-based alternatives such as coconut fiber, cork and rice husk blend. Hartford, CT, Los Angeles Unified School District and the New York City Parks Departments already have banned the use of crumb rubber.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not yet definitively banned synthetic turf fields that use re-cycled crumb rubber. But, Arlington need not wait for EPA’s final conclusions. Instead, Arlington should follow the lead of Montgomery County and other jurisdictions by committing to replace all of its artificial turf fields that currently use re-cycled crumb rubber when the useful lives of those fields end.

Arlington should comprehensively re-examine future installation of artificial turf

Arlington County staff currently believes that one of the key arguments in favor of artificial turf is that, although the upfront cost of installing artificial turf is far higher than installing natural turf, it is so much cheaper to maintain artificial turf that artificial turf is overwhelmingly more cost-effective. A Forbes magazine article casts serious doubt on this argument–certainly enough doubt to warrant re-examining it. As part of this re-examination, Arlington should consider a ban on future use of EPDM as has Hartford, CT.

Conclusion

The artificial turf industry lobby in this country is large, well-financed, and eager to maintain or increase the industry’s market share. The artificial turf industry lobby knows how to market its product to local municipalities. Given the potential health risks and dollars at stake, Arlington should appoint a special citizen-led task force to re-examine where Arlington should go from here on the artificial turf issue.

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