RTM proactively bans crumb rubber artificial turf
WESTPORT — Concerned the town’s playing fields may have adverse health impacts on Westport’s kids, the town’s legislative body passed a ban on crumb rummer, or synthetic field infill.
“Crumb rubber is known to be highly toxic and dangerous in other ways to children and, in fact, all people,” Representative Town Meeting member Wendy Batteau said of synthetic playing field infill.
Batteau and fellow RTM member Ellen Lautenberg spearheaded the effort to craft a ban on synthetic turf. Officially titled, “Ordinance prohibiting the application of synthetic infill material on playing fields on town property,” the ban passed the RTM unanimously Oct. 16.
While Batteau and Lautenberg both said they’ve been worried about the adverse health impacts of synthetic infill for several years, they felt a sense of urgency to pass the ordinance this year because the town is gearing up to replace four of its fields, all of which currently have synthetic infill.
“The idea behind the ordinance was to ensure the town does not replace those fields with crumb rubber infill, which is believed by many to be toxic even though we’re still waiting on some studies to be completed to draw a direct line between this infill and things like cancer and other ailments that may come from contact with this infill,” Lautenberg said.
Synthetic infill is commonly made from “crumb rubber,” or ground up pieces of rubber tires. Up to 40,000 tires are recycled into rubber pellets in order to make infill for a single field, according to the New York-based nonprofit Grassroots Environmental Education.
“The primary problem with turf is the offgas from particles that contain toxic and carcinogenic chemicals,” David Brown said. “When people ingest the crumb rubber, the toxic chemicals are released in their body.”
Brown, a Westport resident with a doctorate in toxicology from Harvard University, spent years heading up a toxicology group at the state health department and testified before the RTM in favor of the synthetic infill ban.
No definitive studies have been completed linking synthetic infill to negative health outcomes, but Brown said he recommends caution in using the material because tests of turf fields reveal the presence of carcinogens.
Additionally, employes of rubber tire factories have been found to have high rates of cancer and anecdotal evidence shows cancer among football and soccer players, especially goalies, Brown said, citing the story of an assistant women’s soccer coach at the University of Washington who noticed many of her former players got cancer.
The coach made a list of 53 players who were diagnosed with cancer, many of whom were goalkeepers, which prompted the Washington State Department of Health to look into the issue.
“We shouldn’t be exposing kids to a carcinogen to see if it causes cancer,” Brown said.
Cancer is not the only potential health effect of synthetic infill. High temperatures on synthetic fields can result in dehydration and heat stroke and skin abrasions or turf burns are more common on plastic synthetic turf than natural grass, according to the Grassroots Environmental Education center.
Westport put synthetic infill on four of its fields—two at Wakeman Town Park, and the other two at Staples High School — in 2006 and 2007, Parks and Recreation Operations Supervisor Dan DeVito said. The lifespan of each field is about 10 years, so the department is looking to replace the four fields during the next two summers, DeVito added.
“At the time I was not really aware of this issue and I don’t know if people were paying that close attention. People were just happy to have fields that drained better and didn’t have the same issues as grass fields,” Lautenberg said, adding she’s hoping the town will accelerate the replacement of the synthetic infill with an organic alternative for all four fields this coming summer.
In banning synthetic infill, Westport joins Hartford, which prohibited the material in 2016, and cities across the country and in Europe that have ordered public facilities to not use the potentially carcinogenic crumb rubber material.
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