FLA county halting synthetic installations

Seminole halts installation of artificial turf at sports complex amid crumb-rubber concerns

Seminole County has halted installing artificial turf on seven athletic fields at the county’s new sports complex after Commissioner Lee Constantine raised health concerns about “crumb rubber,” a material that substitutes for dirt.

“In abundance of caution, we are going to hold up on the installation until we do some further research and learn more,” said Bruce McMenemy, Seminole’s deputy county manager. “I don’t know how long it will be. Whatever time it takes.”

Crumb rubber — also known as tire crumb — is made by grinding old rubber tires into tiny pellets. It has been used in road construction, on playgrounds and as part of artificial turf on hundreds of athletic fields across the country for years.

In Central Florida, the material is used on several multisport fields at high schools — including West Orange, Lake Brantley, Lake Mary, Lake Howell and Oviedo — as well as the Orlando Citrus Bowl.

Altamonte Springs recently installed artificial turf with crumb rubber at three ball fields at Eastmonte Park.

However, in recent years parents across the country have voiced concerns about potential health risks when children came home from playing sports or on playgrounds with rubber fragments stuck to their clothing. Rubber from car and truck tires is made with heavy metals and other chemicals, including lead and arsenic.

Constantine said that if the county is installing artificial turf that contains crumb rubber at the sports complex, it should at least hold off until the county looks into the health effects.

“If we’re using it, then at the very least we should be studying all the information that is out there,” he said. “Because where does the buck ultimately stop? It stops with us, the commissioners.”

Seminole County began construction on its $27 million sports mega-complex this year on a 102-acre site off East Lake Mary Boulevard, adjacent to Orlando Sanford International Airport.

When completed in 2016, it will include a baseball stadium and 15 fields for soccer, lacrosse, football and softball.

Nine of those fields will have artificial turf, and six will have natural grass. Work crews have already installed artificial turf with crumb rubber on two of those nine fields. But county officials suspended the installation on the rest of the fields late Thursday.

As it’s installed, artificial turf is rolled out on to a field like a roll of carpet with artificial blades of grass. Installers then spread crumb rubber to fill in the space between the synthetic-grass blades to provide a cushion akin to dirt.

Supporters say crumb rubber also allows the artificial strands of grass to spring back after it’s stepped on.

Joe Abel, Seminole’s leisure-services director, said county commissioners decided last year to install artificial turf at the county’s new sports complex because it lasts longer than natural grass, is less expensive to maintain, and the fields can be opened sooner after a heavy rain.

But Commissioner Carlton Henley said county employees did not present commissioners with any information about the safety of crumb rubber.

“Nothing was ever said about the concerns about its safety,” Henley said Friday. “If there was a concern, and staff was aware of it, then staff should have shared that concern with commissioners.”

Parents in Colorado, California and Washington State voiced concerns about crumb rubber, especially for football players and soccer goalkeepers, who often fall onto the field.

This month, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who is the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, urged the committee to hold hearings on the safety of artificial-turf fields.

Pallone has also asked the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in Atlanta to evaluate the potential health risks that crumb rubber could pose for anyone coming in contact with it.

“Crumb rubber is known to contain potentially hazardous chemicals, but there is no clear information about how exposure to this product affects our health,” he said in a written statement. “The fact that crumb rubber has become so prevalent, and that we still know so little about potential health risks it poses is troubling.”

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries sent a letter this month to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy urging the federal agency to respond to the growing public concern over the safety of synthetic turf made with crumb rubber.

“There has been extensive research over the past 22 years and more than 75 independent, peer-reviewed studies focusing on the health effects of synthetic-turf fields and playgrounds containing crumb rubber from recycled tires, and the fact is, these fields are safe,” said Robin Wiener, president of the ISRI, a trade association that represents the recycling industry.

In 2009, the EPA conducted a limited-scale study and concluded there was not enough significant data to determine whether crumb rubber was harmful. The EPA recently agreed to assist California with more extensive scientific studies, but the federal agency does not plan to launch its own study.

In Edmonds, Wash., a city north of Seattle, parents and residents have been urging city and school leaders to use a different material — such as cork, sawdust or shredded shoe soles — rather than tire rubber, according to the Seattle Times.

Frank Martz, Altamonte Springs’ city manager, said the city decided to use crumb rubber because it reduces maintenance costs and allows fields to quickly reopen after a rainstorm.

“We also felt it was an environmental hazard the amount of chemicals that we would have to put on [real] grass turf to keep out the weeds and insects,” Martz said.

“We’re sensitive to this issue. But we’re not sure that the science has gotten to the point that it’s a clear health concern. We’re going to continue to monitor what happens nationally. But at this point, we’re very satisfied.”

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