Lyme – Old Lyme Debates Crumb Rubber Turf Fields at Board of Education Meeting

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OLD LYME — On Wednesday night, the Region 18 Board of Education moved toward constructing an artificial turf field behind the Lyme – Old Lyme Middle and High Schools. The board approved $26,800 from the capital reserve fund to complete the design work and permitting process.

It’s the last step before committing the district to installing an artificial turf field.

“The next phase is the actual construction. This design will give us options on the kind of infill, drainage requirements and the price of the project,” said John Rhodes, facilities director of Lyme – Old Lyme Schools at the meeting on Wednesday.

The project would be paid for out of a $1.7 million reserve fund for capital improvements. According to Superintendent Ian Neviaser, the project would hopefully take place in the next two to three years.

“This is the continuing evolution of us addressing the two big pieces that we’ve been struggling with for a long time: lack of water and competing needs of soccer, lacrosse, baseball and softball programs that don’t have enough space.”

With elections just one month away, several candidates for board of education are discussing the prospect of a turf field as a significant campaign issue.

“The upcoming battle is the artificial turf,” said Jenn Miller, republican candidate for board of education and resident of Old Lyme. “Is it based on thorough analysis or desire?”

At Wednesday’s board meeting member Stacy Lenardo urged the board and superintendent to make communication with parents in the community a priority as they move forward with this project.

“We need to give every parent information about safety. A lot of parents in the back of their mind feel like it is not safe. If parents don’t know what surface is being used it really is a concern,” Lenardo said. “If we are not out with that information I think it is unfair to the parents. It will make life harder for everyone involved.”

Although plans for a turf field have been discussed for three years, many residents are only now becoming aware of it.

“It feels like for a lot of parents things come up as a surprise. If you don’t have all the information. It isn’t fair,” Lenardo said. “We need to get things out because some parents aren’t going to read the minutes, but they’ll read the newspaper or see it on Facebook. We really need to be transparent.”.

Artificial turf and human health

Based on a series of peer-reviewed studies on exposure to turf fields and crumb rubber, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency findings, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) concluded that although
artificial turf or tire crumbs do not pose an elevated health risk for athletes, “additional investigation is warranted.”

In 2011, three peer-reviewed studies for DPH published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health in 2011 concluded that there are no significant health risks related to artificial turf fields filled with crumb rubber made from recycled tires.

“The main concern was and is still if people playing on the fields are exposed to chemicals that are on the field,” said Brian Toal, the acting section chief of the environmental health department. “There are some chemicals that can be released by the rubber, but when we tested the air on real fields in the summertime we did not find significant levels of chemicals.”

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry launched a more comprehensive research study to determine the health risks related to artificial turf fields. That study is still in progress.

“Many of my constituents want to do the wait and see approach,” said State Rep. Josh Elliott of Hamden. “But that could take years and it’s so much cheaper and easier for towns than grass.”

Despite the apparent economic benefits, during the 2019 legislative session Ellliott put forward a bill to prohibit the purchase or use of artificial turf by the state and municipalities. Although the bill did not make it out of committee, the proposal garnered considerable support from environmental and health advocates across the state.

Connecticut League of Conservation Voters testified in support of HB 7003, An Act Concerning a Moratorium on the Use of Recycled Tire Rubber at Municipal and Public School Playgrounds.  “In lieu of the report, Connecticut must take steps to preemptively protect its children, who could be vulnerable to contamination from rubber mulch playgrounds. This bill, which proposes a moratorium on new rubber mulch playgrounds until the report is released, is the smart, safe choice.”

Toal added that the concerns related not only to chemical exposure on the fields, but also to the elevated temperature of turf fields in the summer. Penn State’s Center for Sports Surface Research concluded that crumb rubber fields exhibited temperatures generally 35° to 55° F hotter than natural turf.

“The one thing with the crumb rubber fields they do get hot. They can get so hot it is a problem,” Toal said. “The actual surface can almost give you a burn in the middle of summer. It is almost the biggest drawback, but by the middle of September the temperature situation is not as important.”

Artificial turf and the environment

In 2011, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection researched the impact of crumb rubber fill, and aging turf fields, on the environment.

“They measured storm water runoff from the fields and look at older fields. They did not find much of significance,” Toal said. “They did find excess zinc, however, which can have adverse effects on aquatic organisms.”

In East Lyme, where a turf field was installed in 2011, facilities director Chris Lund said regular maintenance includes daily inspections for tears or low levels of infill. Between seasons the field needs to be raked and groomed. Once a year, the manufacturer will perform an onsite inspection to assess the field elasticity and safety. Every three years, additional rubber is added to replace what has been washed away, or lost.

“Every three years they come in and add quite a bit of fill. This past summer they came and added about 20,000 lbs of rubberized pellets and groom it to get the right thickness and shape,” Lund said.