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So Calif School District Says NO to Crumb Rubber Infill for Sports Fields

Two cities spurn crumb rubber used with artificial turf in sports field installations …

By A.J. Perez, USA TODAY
Officials in the nation’s two largest cities are not waiting out ongoing studies and debate about the safety of artificial turf fields that use crumbs of recycled tire rubber as a base.

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and the Los Angeles Unified School District have decided that any new artificial fields they purchase must use a different material as its base, or infill, layer. The moves will mean using costlier alternatives such as one that uses coated grains of sand.

“The health of our students is more important than any other issue,” says LAUSD board member Marlene Canter, whose district includes Helen Bernstein High School in Hollywood where a coated sand called FlexSand was used in an artificial turf field that opened last fall. “You should never equate economics with health. In no way should we be skimping on something like this that could affect our kids.”

Crumb rubber, the use of which has grown in recent years thanks to installation of thousands of artificial turf fields, has become somewhat controversial. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission declared artificial turf fields pose little to no risks for its users, the same basic findings of a cooperative study by two New York state agencies released last month.

Still, some consumer and environmental groups have been critical of artificial turf generally, and crumb rubber specifically.

In spring 2008, New Jersey officials found elevated lead levels in some older artificial fields; a number were closed. In September, the California Attorney General’s Office sued three turf manufacturers because they “failed to provide clear and reasonable warnings” that their products contained lead, a violation of state law. The case remains open.

Concerns about chemical compounds that might come from recycled tire rubber prompted studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Attorney General’s Office. Both studies are ongoing.

Synthetic Turf Council president Rick Doyle says crumb rubber is safe, and criticism of it “isn’t founded on science.”


But that didn’t stop New York from banning crumb rubber from all future artificial turf installations. Commissioner Adrian Benepe declared in April 2008 that all new fields would use alternatives to crumb rubber, mostly due to the fact new in-fills may be able resist heat better. So far, two fields installed in recent months have utilized used FlexSand — one of half-dozen products on the market that doesn’t use recycled tires.

“We’re constantly looking to make our parks better and safe,” Benepe says. “We were the first large city to install safety surfaces on playgrounds. We have such a large system, that we have the ability to experiment with different designs.”

A soccer field at Thomas Jefferson Park in Manhattan was the only artificial turf field to test positive for lead among the more than 100 tested in recent moths in New York, although parks officials said it’s not known whether the crumb rubber was the problem. The park reopened in April.

Expensive alternatives

There are several alternative infill solutions on the market today.

ASGI, Affiliate members, TenCate, GeoSafePlay and SuperFILL all offer solutions – and handful of other firms produce alternatives to crumb rubber, as well.

The alternatives add thousands to a field’s cost. “When you compare it to crumb rubber, the alternatives are quite a bit more expensive,” says Tim McMillan, director of marketing and product development of Mineral Visions’ parent company, Fairmont Minerals, an ASGI General Member. “Companies were happy to get rid of crumb rubber because there’s really no other use for discarded tires. They almost gave it away.”

Stephen Sharr, director of new construction for the Central Region of the LAUSD, said it costs $92,000 more to install [the alternative infill solution we selected] compared to crumb rubber, but called the expense “inconsequential” when it comes to the health of field users.

Geoffrey Croft, president NYC Park Advocates, favors natural turf fields, but he said he’s glad the city is moving away from crumb rubber.

“We’ve been fighting against crumb rubber for years,” he says. “We’ve wanted them to abandon it. Up until recently, they’ve refused. I hope they take crumb rubber out of all the fields.”

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