Turfs Almost Up for Parks Department

It’s a start. The New York City Council is at last showing some oversight of the Parks Department — around artificial turf. This substance has been placed by NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe in over 130 natural soil and grass fields across the five boroughs. (Thankfully, not at Washington Square Park – thus far.) People have questioned artificial turf being used in place of grass, for a number of reasons beginning with the fact that it sounds like a really bad idea – after all, it’s made from recycled rubber tires. But there are genuine health and environmental concerns.

Bill Crain, a developmental psychologist who works at City College, has been one of the leaders in exposing these potential problems. As he outlined to the City Council in December, when he first went over to Riverside Park to check on the synthetic turf installed in 2006, he was surprised to find the rubber granules so prevalent on the surface of the turf. A boy came over and said to him, “I get them in my shoes and they come out when I take them off at night.”

Yesterday, an article appeared in the New York Daily News, “Council Members push for removal of pulverized tires from city parks,”and outlines a bill that is being proposed by some City Council members which would require the “estimated 30 million pounds” of synthetic turf out of city parks — to be removed within a year and alternatives sought based on “unanswered questions around health concerns.”

When I first wrote about artificial turf, amidst other problems with NYC’s Parks Department, a p.r. person from Atlanta wrote to me letting me know that she did not think I accurately represented the facts — that no state or federal agency has banned or restricted it. (Well, cigarettes were promoted for a long time too without warnings from the government so I don’t know if that’s the strongest argument.) She stated that synthetic turf was great for athletes in the communities because they can now practice year round and even in rain. (!)

So … is the lesson that when you’re young you get to frolick around on your artificial turf rain or shine? … Is it so terrible to learn that sometimes we have to alter our schedules because of mother nature? Probably best when we are also playing amidst “mother nature” and not along potentially harmful synthetic turf — which I hope we will see out of our city Parks soon.

**If you’d like more information on Bill Crain’s research with Dr. Jim Zhang on toxic chemicals in synthetic turf, or Crain’s summary of how natural settings benefit children’s psychological development, you can email him at Billcrain -at- aol.com and he will send it to you.