Larchmont Board Addresses Turf Safety Concerns
Also at the Board: See: Mayor Quashes Political Rumors
by Judy Silberstein
(November 1, 2007) After a Republican political show on LMC-TV and an article in the New York Times each raised questions about the safety of synthetic turf fields last week, Mayor Liz Feld replied, “this is not news to us.” Much of the October 29 Village Board meeting was devoted to addressing concerns that have led to calls of a moratorium on turf fields in Connecticut and have the potential to derail plans to begin installing such a field at Flint Park in the next few months.
At the October 20 groundbreaking ceremony in Flint Park were: Mamaroneck Town Supervisor Valerie O'Keeffe, Westchester County Legislators Vito Pinto and Judy Myers, Larchmont Mayor Liz Feld, Chair of the County Legislature Bill Ryan and County Executive Andy Spano. Photo courtesy of Westchester County.
Both the show and the article were prompted by recently released results of research conducted by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in conjunction with Environment and Human Health, Inc, (EHHI) a non-profit organization of health and public health professionals. The study subjected rubber particles used as infill for some artificial turf fields to heat and water and found “out-gassing” or leaching of four compounds which are potential irritants and one, butylated hydroxyanisole, which is a potential carcinogen. (See: press release and study from EHHI.) At the end of August, EHHI called for a moratorium on fields that “use ground-up rubber tire crumbs until additional research is undertaken.”
Mayor Feld said the board and its consultants from the firm of Woodard and Curran were fully aware of this research. They had reviewed a wide body of research conducted over many years, much of it in Europe, where the type of artificial turf under consideration for Flint Park has long been in use. The Mamaroneck School Board is also considering the research as it deliberates on installing turf at Mamaroneck High School and/or Central School. (See: Fields Update: VOL Leading; Schools Getting Back on Track)
To address the latest concerns, Woodard and Curran’s health risk assessment department will be preparing an additional report for presentation at the next Village Board meeting on November 14.
Mayor Feld said it was “not too late” – if new information arises – for the board to opt out of installing artificial turf.
However, board members expressed confidence in the safety of the artificial turf being considered. Trustee Marlene Kolbert said she had spoken with Ken Pritchard, Larchmont’s engineering consultant on flooding, who said emissions from turf fields are not as great as those experienced “sitting in your car on the freeway.” Greater dangers could be found from fungicides, pesticides and fertilizer spread on natural grass or from idling a car outside Chatsworth School, she indicated. Trustee Richard Ward suggested that “all those tires wearing down and issuing particulates” as they are driven are of greater concern.
In the whole world of things, this is not a risk to our children,” said Trustee Anne McAndrews, who pointed to the many years that artificial turf has been in use. “The proof is in the pudding,” she added.
Trustee Jim Millstein took issue with the Connecticut study itself, saying the researchers subjected the rubber to extreme conditions that do not represent those likely to be reproduced in natural conditions. He compared this one small, $6K study to the large body of research, most of it from Europe, “which uniformly concluded that there is no concern for health.”
In addition, Mr. Millstein said, if future research shows that the turf is harmful, it would be simple to remove the new field's rubber layer and still have a “very sophisticated drainage system” on which to place a natural grass surface. As for the LMC-TV discussion, he questioned the motives of those on the show, including “the former mayor who has a political axe to grind.” He added, “I see no reason to delay because the former mayor is nipping at our heels.”
Asked for comment following the meeting, former Mayor Ken Bialo said he was not a scientist and was not in a position to evaluate the research, but he did not believe it was possible for the board to “declare that there will be no adverse affect on the environment” from the artificial field. Mr. Bialo said he has made no secret of his disapproval of the project on the basis of other concerns, including loss of trees, tennis courts and picnic areas, and objections to the conditions of the agreement with Westchester County for the Legacy grant funding.
There were other comments at the meeting. From the audience, Lori Brandon of Fields for Kids said the debate about artificial turf was “much like those we have seen surrounding cell phone use, coffee, and synthetic carpeting.” She counseled “to stay measured” and consider that “sometimes, not always” there are “unclear agendas or biased funding behind research" which should be “tempered by neutral, solid investigation of both sides.”
Catherine Wachs, a Mamaroneck Town resident active in addressing storm water and related environmental issues, made the point that old tires, which had been deposited in the ocean to create artificial reefs, are now being removed because they have been found to release toxins. “I caution you that the absence of science showing it is harmful, doesn’t mean it is not harmful,” she said.
Michelle Lewis, an architect, asked about drainage into the nearby Long Island Sound. Mayor Feld said Larchmont had just received verbal approval from the NY Department of Environmental Conservation for a required plan to handle water runoff and prevent pollution that might drain into the Sound from the new Flint Park fields.
In the next few weeks, the board will be gathering additional information and waiting to hear from its consultants. In the meantime, said Mayor Feld, we are “proceding as scheduled.”