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.

5 thoughts on “Turfs Almost Up for Parks Department

  1. Artificial turf is not only dangerous in terms of the chemicals *in* it that kids and pets absorb rolling around on the ground, through their feet, and tracking them into their homes, but in terms of the chemicals *on* it. Pesticides, pigeon-poop, pollutants and other materials pool on the turf, taking much longer to break down, making it doubly dangerous for kids.

    The whole idea behind this travesty is that the Parks department personnel has been cut by 70 percent or so over the last 10 years, so it now is no longer possible for the existing workers to do the weeding, etc. leading first to the mass-spraying of herbicides and now to artificial turf. Read Isaac Asimov’s description of the metal-enclosed planet Trantor in his “Foundation” trilogy to get an idea of what we’re being turned into.

    We need to fight for replacement of all the cuts in the Parks Dept. budget for WORKERS, and get people in charge of the agency who are willing to break with the Manhattan Institute’s neo-con agenda that Mayor Bloomberg (like Giuliani before him) is so enamored with.

  2. I have to say, while I admire spirited public interest in health and safety, it is rather shocking that a major metropolitan area is completely unaware of the fact that artificial turf is not “made of recycled tires”! What a silly statement. It is made of either polypropylene, polyethylene (two plastics) or Nylon or a combination of these fibers.

    Sports field turf is often filled up with ground up tire crumbs mixed with sand, to hold the blades up and provide a cushion effect- that’s the origin of the misconception. That rubber does represent a large amount of the overall turf system by weight.

    The most important and most shocking thing though is that you seem to be unaware that there are artificial grass products that do no use rubber tire crumbs at all- they are not brand spanking new either- SYNLawn has been manufacturing and installing synthetic grass with no rubber tire crumbs for the better part of a decade.

    It is no more harmful to children than a carpet, a plastic bag or a backpack.

    It is a fantastic solution to high density urban areas, or areas that need fields that are available for public use consistantly and for longer periods of time than natural grass will permit. They are tremendously cost effective over their lifecycle- and no amount of worry will conjure up major credible reasons not to use them.

    If rubber tires is the issue, then by all means, contact SYNLawn or AstroTurf and be done with the issue once and for all.

    Save the watering and maintenance for pretty flowers, shrubs and trees.

    Both products are widely available in New York,. http://www.synlawn.com, http://www.generalsportsvenue.com.

  3. My experience of artificial grass is that it is typically made of polypropylene or polyethylene, rather than recycled tyres.

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