Source: New York Times
A draft report conducted on behalf of the Bloomberg administration says that there is no scientific evidence that synthetic turf fields in New York pose major health hazards for people playing on them.
Critics, however, said the study by TRC Companies, an engineering, consulting and construction management company based in Connecticut, would not quell concerns about artificial turf because the analysis was only a review of previous scientific studies and included no original research.
Jessica Scaperotti, a spokeswoman for New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which oversaw the analysis, said reviewing only scientific literature was “an appropriate form for exploring this issue at this time.”
In recent months, parents’ groups and lawmakers, locally and nationwide, have raised concerns about potential health and safety hazards related to artificial turf fields.
The surface has been used for decades as a playing surface for professional and collegiate athletes, but has proliferated more recently in public parks and schools around the nation as a cost-effective, more durable alternative to grass.
The city’s parks department said that it had installed 77 turf fields since 1997 and that it planned on putting in 23 more.
Betsy Gotbaum, the city’s public advocate, and organizations including New Yorkers for Parks, Riverkeeper, the Natural Resources Defense Council and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest said Wednesday that after reading the report they had decided to continue to call for a moratorium on installing new turf fields.
In a statement, the health department said it was “conducting a review of scientific studies to better understand the potential health effects for people who use artificial turf fields.”
“The department is still reviewing comments from staff and colleagues in the scientific community and expects the report to be released by the end of the month,” the statement said.
Stuart Gaffin, an associate research scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University, who has read the draft report and whose research has focused on the heat that synthetic turf fields generate, said the analysis was less than authoritative.
“It seems that it was a good college-student level Internet database report,” Dr. Gaffin said. “It is not definitive and should not be the final answer on this.”
TRC Companies referred questions to the health department on Wednesday.
The parks department declined to comment.
The draft report was obtained by The New York Times from an advocacy group, NYC Park Advocates.
At the heart of the dispute is whether synthetic turf, particularly crumb rubber fields made from recycled tires, places athletes at risk because of the presence of lead and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which have caused cancer and organ damage in animals and may be a cancer risk to people if they are exposed over a long period.
Researchers, however, have not determined conclusively how easily the hydrocarbons — which are also found in toys and other materials — can be absorbed by the human body.
Critics of the fields also say turf creates “heat islands” that can climb as high as 170 degrees because the synthetic surface absorbs sunlight and emits heat. There are also concerns that the fields may exacerbate the risk of serious sports-related injuries.
Legislation banning new turf fields has been introduced in the State Legislature, and earlier this week the California State Senate approved a bill ordering a health and environmental study of the fields.
The New York City study — or more precisely, a “literature review” — titled “A Review of the Potential Health and Safety Risks From Synthetic Turf Fields,” was ordered last year by the health department after it received a $100,000 grant from the New York Community Trust.
The 180-page report stops short of making sweeping statements about the health risks of turf. Instead, it found that available data either did not support claims about many of the health and safety hazards attributed to artificial turf or that existing research was inconclusive.
For instance, while discussing one of the most hotly debated claims — that crumb rubber might be harmful, especially to children — the report states, “In this review, a health risk was not identified as a result of ingestion, dermal or inhalation exposure to crumb rubber.”
At another point, the report says, “There is little information regarding the outdoor air concentrations of chemicals of potential concern at synthetic turf fields.”
The report, however, identifies several potentially harmful chemicals found in turf fields, including arsenic, lead and chrysene.
“Aromatic hydrocarbons, including toluene and xylene isomers, were among the chemicals detected at the highest concentrations,” the report stated.
Toluene is listed on the Web site for the United States Department of Health and Human Services’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The Web site says that “breathing very high levels of toluene during pregnancy can result in children with birth defects and retard mental abilities, and growth.”
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