Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Riverkeepers on Artificial Turf

Here's what the well-respected organization Riverkeepers has to say about artificial turf:

Testimony of Craig Michaels, Investigator
Riverkeeper, Inc.
Re: Oversight--The Use of Artificial Turf in City Parks
Hearing Before the Council of the City of New York
Parks and Recreation Committee
December 13, 2007

Riverkeeper is a non-profit environmental organization that works to protect the Hudson River and the New York City drinking water supply. We are also part of the SWIM coalition (Storm Water Infrastructure Matters), a broad coalition of environmental groups working to promote better stormwater management throughout the City. In addition, we work closely with the growing number of environmental and civic groups around New York City studying the environmental and public health impacts of synthetic fields.

The use of artificial turf in New York City parks poses serious environmental and public health risks. Unfortunately, despite strong public support for local environmental policy initiatives, artificial turf continues to replace natural grass playing fields, moving New York in the opposite direction of becoming a sustainable city. Riverkeeper opposes further installation of artificial turf in New York City parks until a comprehensive study is conducted that addresses the concerns set forth below.
Stormwater Impacts

More than 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted stormwater discharge out of 460 combined sewer overflows (CSOs) into New York Harbor each year. Although water quality in the Harbor has improved significantly over the last few decades, most of the waterfront and its beaches are still unsafe for recreation after it rains. New York City’s outmoded sewer system combines sewage from buildings with dirty stormwater from streets. As little as one-tenth of an inch of rain can overload the system, causing the raw sewage to overflow into the Harbor.
Unfortunately, artificial fields only compound the City’s CSO issues. The low water retention rate of artificial turf, which maximizes the recreational potential of such fields, is also a stormwater nightmare.
Water glides off of these surfaces with ease and either adds to the City’s already overloaded sewer system, or, in the case of waterfront parks, may simply wash directly into our rivers and into New York Harbor. In contrast to natural playing surfaces such as grass, synthetic fields not only increase run-off, but this run-off is potentially toxic, as it contains rubber tire crumbs from the fields, which are comprised of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a group of chemicals that includes compounds classified as known or probable human carcinogens.

PlaNYC established an inter-agency Task Force that is currently examining how and where best
management practices (BMPs) can be implemented to reduce stormwater impacts throughout the City. BMPs are economically sound alternatives that can reduce the volume of stormwater entering the system. Examples of BMPs include: street trees, greenstreets (smaller vegetated areas on streets); green roofs to capture and/or detain run-off from buildings; tree pits designed to retain water for absorption by trees; and the use of porous pavement in area parking lots. Any excess stormwater that is not captured by source controls then enters the sewage system for eventual treatment.

The policies of sustainability and green infrastructure espoused in PlaNYC are also embodied in three sustainable stormwater management bills (Int. No. 628, 629, 630, 321) currently pending before the City Council. But while support for these bills continue to gain momentum, and while the BMP Task Force continues to make progress, the Department of Parks and Recreation continues to propose replacing natural grass fields with artificial playing surfaces. Clearly, there is a disconnect here between policy and implementation.

If New York City is serious about becoming a greener, more livable city by employing responsible, costeffective, and environmentally sound stormwater management techniques, then the installation of artificial turf fields need to be significantly curbed, if not halted altogether.
Urban Heat Island Effect

According to a report issued by New Yorkers for Parks, summer temperatures in New York City are approximately 7 degrees warmer than surrounding areas. This urban heat island effect is created by the combination of a vast amount of impervious surfaces (asphalt, concrete, etc.) and the dramatically small amount of trees and green spaces that can absorb the summer heat. Installing synthetic fields, particularly in areas that were formerly grass fields, further exacerbates this serious problem.

According to a recent New York Times article, researchers at Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research found that the temperature on the surface of synthetic turf fields could be as much as 60 degrees hotter than grass fields. Given the predictions from scientists around the globe that temperatures will continue to rise due to global warming, New York City should be actively looking for ways to reduce the urban heat island effect, which every summer traps heat inside New York City, leading to higher energy costs and increased heat-related health risks, among other problems. Unfortunately, synthetic fields, in many cases, do just the opposite by further increasing the urban heat island effect.

Health Effects

At least some preliminary studies suggest that the placement of PAH-emitting used tire particles on synthetic fields may pose a health risk to those who use the fields for recreation. As a member of a softball team who frequently plays on the formerly grass fields, but now artificial turf, of Riverside Park, I have observed first-hand how playing on artificial turf can cut, scrape, and scar individuals whose activities on a grass field would have simply led to superficial abrasions. Although further study is needed, it is intuitive that once a person’s skin is open and exposed to particles that emit PAHs, there may be a risk to human health.

Recently, two bills were introduced in the New York State Assembly (Bill A9503) and the New York State Senate (Bill S6531), both calling for a state-wide moratorium on the purchasing of artificial turf until a comprehensive study of the environmental and public health impacts is conducted. Not only is this a reasonable position, but it would be negligent to proceed any other way.

Environmental Review

From an overall environmental perspective, any proposed installation of artificial turf should be subject to scrutiny under either the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) or the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) process.

The environmental and human health impacts of a single field are localized but surely measurable. In addition, the cumulative effect of the installation of over a hundred of these fields citywide in a short period of time certainly warrants proper environmental review.
Riverkeeper urges the City Council to mandate a moratorium on the development and installation of artificial turf fields until the Parks Department, working with other agencies and independent consultants as needed, has conducted a comprehensive study on the environmental and public health effects of artificial turf. Further, the Council should explore methods to convert synthetic fields back to natural grass fields.

Aside from the artificial color, there is nothing green about artificial turf. The Parks Department, Mayor’s Office, and City Council owe it to the concerned parents of children who play on these fields, and to all the residents of New York City, to conduct a proper environmental assessment that continues to include public participation and frequent consultation with physicians and other leading experts in the field. It is critical that the City Council continue to play a leading role in making this City more sustainable and Riverkeeper looks forward to working with the Council on this and other areas of environmental concern.

Riverkeeper is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the Hudson River Estuary, New York City’s upstate drinking water reservoirs, and the rights of all New Yorkers to clean communities and a clean environment. Since 1965, we have brought hundreds of environmental lawbreakers to justice, forcing more than $1 billion in fines and remediation projects.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If your comment does not appear in 24 hours, please send your comment directly to our e-mail address:
parentscoalitionmc AT