Ward Street Grass Roots

A Hingham organization fighting for rational use of our Town’s resources

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Health Additional Reading

Kurt Tramposch MPH
Environmental Planner

Kurt is a community environmental health researcher and advocate with 25 years of experience and has been immersed in the artificial turf health debate since 2006 pushing for ‘truth in turf’ siting transparency and a fair comparison between synthetic and real turf. He has no financial irons in either camp and no obligations or history with either approach. His training is in planning, landscape architecture, public health, watershed management, and drinking water supply and source water protection. He has presented on artificial turf issues at national conferences and provided assistance and information to a dozen or so community leaders or citizen groups tackling this issue, including Wellesley, Nantucket, Newton, Winchester, Larchmont NY, Rye NY, and Minneapolis MN. As a separate focus, He has also since 2002 been a researcher, advocate for reform, and conference presenter on private well testing, protection, and local oversight by local, county, and state jurisdictions in the northeast.

Water Issues

Stormwater TMDLs from VOCs, metals, tire crumb, and tire-heat related ‘thermal pollution’ as the fast-moving irrigation or summer rain infiltrates the highly porous system picking up heat from the 130-degree+ fields. Surprisingly, although ‘permeable asphalt paving’ is much in vogue now, its use under a 200-car parking lot in the vacinity of private wells should be reviewed since oil and gas leaks, as well as occasional salting might allow undesirable contaminants to infiltrate into underlying groundwater before such leaks can be detected. Some communities using such desirable LID practices have use oil/gas receiving detention and treatment basins instead along the edges of impervious pavement.

Groundwater quality concerns from leaching components of the tires, the plastic turf, adhesives, ‘baked in’ antibiotics such as triclosan, and   maintenance chemicals used for painting or removing lines, brightening the turf, or fluffing the crumb. Even herbicides are sometimes used.

Water supply protection – from metals such as lead, zinc, cadmium, and – in the case of testing in Scituate – the highly toxic thallium. Private wells, downstream reservoirs, water treatment facilities and municipal wells – all can suffer from leachate over the 10-20 yr life of a facility.

Flooding of fields – can absolutely destroy them instantly as has happened in many instances, either from being on a floodplain or heavy storm runoff and plugged drainage below.

Tire crumb migration – the crumb floats, is pushed by stormwater, and in some instances such as Wayland, plowed off the surface in an attempt to play during the winter. This migration can be a small nuisance to wholesale movement and will have to be replaced in the field annually.

Tree loss – everyone is trying hard to retain forested riparian buffers due to the tremendous infiltration benefits of the forest. Trees are inimicable to artificial turf as any debris whatsoever will over time decay and not only clog the porous aspects of turf (which makes it work) but enhance volunteer seeds to germinate (very difficult to pull due to construction of the turf, so herbicides are often used to control).

Irrigation of turf – improbable as it seems, turf needs to be irrigated to reduce the excess heat during sunny days, to fluff the surface, and – in the case of regulation field hockey play – to be in compliance with regulations. This can mean building in ‘water canons’ to get the job done quickly and mostly using ‘finished’ drinking water in the process. Since the Aquarion Hingham-Hull water is increasingly subject to imposing outdoor water restrictions due to the MA DEP Water Mgmt Act requirements of 65 gpd, this could mean that while everything else in Hingham is shut off in a drought emergency, the turf field will still require irrigation. Sounds insane, but it’s actually well documented and more common than you think. Towns that are told the fields don’t have elevated heat in the summer or hot fall have discovered that they had to scramble to come up with available water when needed. I visited Acton-Boxborough and was told by the turf maintenance individual that he was ordered to irrigate the field whenever ambient temps were over 90degrees – and they hadn’t built in irrigation because the consultants said it wasn’t a problem in the northeast.

Cooling water and potable water fountains – the heat means that lots of drinking water is necessary, but so also are cooling showers and mists along sidelines for super-heated players.

The ConCom issue of turf irrigation and cooling water – other than the excessive additional flow, is that it also assists in the leaching of additionaly pollutants of concern.

Environmental Factors –

Noise – from added public address systems (seemingly a necessary part of the ‘Friday Night Lights” football scene). This sound can travel great distance, especially when the the leaves are down and the water is high in the fall. The ConCom issue has to be sound impacts on wildlife during crucial periods of nesting, migration, etc.

Sensitive Receptors – Wildlife impacts from excessive zinc is well documented. Since zinc readily leaches from tire-infill fields and appears to be released more rapidly over time (with the greater exposed surface of the tire crumb), this is of great concern to amphibians, fish, and most wetland species, including plants.

Animal Feces & Pathogens – such park-like areas invite more dog walking and dog feces runoff, an increasing problem in water supply protection circles. But what was unespected was contamination of artificial turf fields from bird, and especially goose poop. In Arlington, this became such a problem with their artificial turf fields and stadium that they put in Cabela dummy coyotes which predictably stopped working after a couple of weeks. So then they hired a professional bird-chaser with dogs. I’ve seen lots of goose feces on fields, but none worse than Belmont high school (with a pond nearby) and the Arlington municipal field. This problem means that more cleaning is necessary, and disinfection since artificial turf is not an analogue of the natural soil biota which readily breaks down contaminents and disinfects in the process.

MRSA – Staph-resistant bacteria and turf fields is still hotly debated. Because it is such a concern in schools and colleges, many artificial turf manufacturers coat the fibers of plastic with a slow-release antibiotic such as triclosan. This alone over time is of great concern to water quality and disruption of natural ecosystems, just as the wholesale addition (and lack of efficacy) of such products to personal care products is of concern. Not all companies ‘bake this in’ to the turf, so there are companies who regularly spray such products on fields to disinfect them. Handling human ‘fluids’ on artificial turf is also different in that there are strict regulations to clean up after blood or other ‘fluids’ are spilled onto plastic turf. There is also discussion as to whether the enhanced transport time of stormwater movement through turf will result in the transport of untreated human pathogens offsite, but this is not being studied to my knowledge.

Lights – Although they can be very disturbing to neighbors, the ConCom really isn’t in that business. What they might respond to is the disturbance of nesting and mating species of concern, to the movement of amphibians such as salamanders, and to nocturnal birds and bats.

Cornell (my alma mater) had a recent problem in that the lights were kept on at night at the stadium artificial turf, attracting migrating bird species to the field as if it were grass.

Security – many fields that used to shut off their night lights keep them on. Why? Because the community’s investment in the synthetic surfaces is so great, that the arson they sometime attract can’t be tolerated, either by the managing authority or by the local fire and police. If you go to www.SynTurf.org, you will find many of the arson impacts that Guive and I have assembled from articles around the country. The lights were left on at Arlington High School, permanently, after some students from another town took advantage of the darkness to build a fire on the teams logo, costing $50k to replace. Other fields found that the expensive security cameras that they felt they had to install wouldn’t pick up images in the darkness. This probably would not be an issue in Hingham, especially in that neighborhood. But you would want the strict control of the lights in writing I would think – things can happen.

Emergencies – Arlington High School had adult teams and two years ago a player experienced cardiac arrrest. Although the fire department was only minutes away, the emergency vehicle couldn’t gain access to the field because the gate was locked, causing considerable delay in their emergency response. Heat emergencies can be a reoccurring problem with tire-infill artificial turf due to temps that can easily run 120-130 degrees, but have been measured in the northeast (including in Wayland) at 160degrees. We got our Board of Health to post the field to inform parents, coaches, and even sensitive spectators, and the health agent purchased special thermometers to distribute to key personnel in Parks and Rec, the school system, etc. There have been instances of allergic sensitivity of some school children to the pthalates, PAHs, and other components of the crumb ‘kick-up’ which can be inhaled or pulverized into a fine airborne dust. Zinc in particular has been linked to cardio impacts when inhaled.

Access – also go to www.SynTurf.org to get a full explanation of this problem. Artificial turf fields have to be fenced, often locked to keep people and animals off of the sensitive surface. In some cases, without a fence kids have driven cars and trucks onto the field doing serious damage to the underlying even surface and renting the carpet. Open fields that once welcome all sorts of informal uses quickly become ‘official’ use only, scheduled and monitored only. Since the fields can be played on virtually indefinitely, the problem becomes shutting this down. Turf fields also have many other uses in some towns such as parade surfaces, band practice, graduations, rock concerts, etc. One thing they don’t do well is fireworks. Many communities have discovered – too late – that their town fields that once welcomed annual July 4th pyrotechnics either had to be totally covered with a new expensive surface for the event or moved since the falling embers often melt the surface of the plastic field.

To learn more:
Read more about the Hazadous Chemicals in Synthetic Turf here
Read more about Nantucket not so bullish on artificial turf here
• Read more about Artificial Turf and Children’s Health here
• Read more about an Artificial Turf Report here
• Read more about NYC Review of Artificial Turf here