Washington, DC — One under-the-radar pattern in last week’s elections was voters turning down new artificial turf fields, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Besides these local setbacks, a federal safety agency is reviewing “possible enforcement action” against turf makers for marketing their lead-laden products to young children.
In the November 5th elections, voters in New Jersey, Vermont, and Maine all turned back efforts to fund artificial turf fields:
- In northern New Jersey, voters in Glen Ridge rejected two related referenda to authorize purchase and installation of artificial athletic fields in the borough. This was the second time in six years that Glen Ridge voters have spurned a turf referendum;
- In Vermont, voters defeated a $1.5 million bond to fund replacing two of the seven grass athletic fields at suburban Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg with artificial turf; and
- In Maine, voters in Freeport, Durham and Pownal townships supported a bond to renovate the local high school but voted down a separate bond measure to pay for a synthetic turf field and track at the school.
“Artificial turf does not solve the solid waste disposal headache of used tires; it merely transfers the problem of ultimate disposal from private interests to taxpayers and school boards,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that there are now an estimated 4,000 synthetic turf fields in the U.S. “These fields carry a big price tag but have short expected lives of only 10 to 15 years.”
In all three elections, opposition focused not just on the high price of the artificial fields but on growing environmental and safety questions. Artificial turf fields are typically made of a synthetic grass-like material sitting atop between 20,000 and 40,000 shredded tires, depending upon the size of the field, used as “in-fill.” There are no barriers between the tire crumb in-fill and athletes who pick up tire bits in their shoes, clothing, hair and ears. In addition, there are growing concerns about chemical off-gassing, as well as dangerous temperature levels on fields that can become super-heated.
At the same time, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has agreed to review whether artificial turf sold for use in playgrounds and day-care centers should be lead-free. Applying this standard would outlaw commonly used fill of shredded tires or mulch rubber. The CPSC has asked its Office of Compliance and Field Operations for “review and determination of whether any enforcement action is appropriate” in response to a complaint filed by PEER this August that products such as TotTurf and KidWise Outdoor Products are clearly marketed as a children’s product and therefore must be lead-free.
“The law requires any products intended for children under age 14 to be lead-free.” Ruch added, pointing out that CPSC rules only apply to lead but ignore other dangerous chemicals in shredded tires including arsenic, benzene, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, mercury, carbon black and aromatic hydrocarbons. “The long-term effect of exposing children, especially very young children, to these toxic materials in an environmentally accessible form is not fully understood but common sense suggests it should be avoided.”