Organizations and Business urge MD leaders to stop subsidizing the construction of unsafe, unhealthy synthetic turf fields and playgrounds

This morning a coalition of 16 organizations and businesses sent a letter to Governor Hogan and House and Senate leadership urging the state to discontinue subsidizing fields and playgrounds in light of growing health and the environment  concerns.

The co-signers, which includes the Sierra Club, Mom’s Organic Market, and Alliances of Nurses for a Healthy Environment, urged legislators to support HB 505 and SB 763, which would discontinue state subsidies for the construction of artificial (synthetic) fields and playgrounds.

Synthetic turf fields pose numerous health and environmental risks, which are outlined in detail in the letter.  The fields are commonly made of plastic grass infilled with an estimated 40,000 shredded tires. Crumb rubber contains 92 different chemicals, of which 11 are known carcinogens.

The letter follows recent decision of Montgomery to join DC, Virginia in a class action lawsuit against Synthturf, which alleges that the company misled the county about how long the field would last, and safety of the field as relates to hardness and the risk of concussion.  It is unknown how many Synthturf fields are installed in Maryland or why other jurisdictions have not joined the lawsuit.      https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Turf-Company-Knowingly-Sold-Defective-Unsafe-Product-Lawsuit-Says-470776623.html

Senate Bill 763, introduced by Senator Roger Manno, will be heard in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on Wednesday March 7th at 1:00 PM

The crossfile, House Bill 505, introduced by Delegate Aruna MIller (district 15, Montgomery County), had a hearing on February 8th in the Appropriations Committee.  The bill has been assigned to the “Transportation and Environment” Subcommittee chaired by Delegate Tawanna Gaines, district 21.

According the fiscal note, the state does not have very good data about the extend to which its funds are used for synthetic surfaces.   The Department of Natural Resources reports that there are 48 local projects involving artificial turf have been completed with or approved for POS funding, but they do not have data on whether funds have been used for synthetic playgrounds.   In addition, they noted that there have been over 100 grants ine last 10 years which might have been used for these surfaces.


February 27, 2018

To:  The Honorable Governor Larry Hogan
The Honorable Mike Busch, Speaker, Maryland House of Delegates
The Honorable Thomas V. Mike Miller, President, Maryland Senate
The Honorable Maggie McIntosh, Chair, House Appropriations Committee
The Honorable Edward Kasemeyer, Chair, Senate Budget and Taxation Committee

CC:  Members of House Appropriations and Senate Budget and Taxation Committees
Delegate Aruna Miller
Senator Roger Manno

Subject: State funding for synthetic (artificial) turf and playgrounds (HB 505, SB 763)

We, the undersigned organizations and businesses, are writing to request your support for legislation to restrict the use of state funds for the construction and maintenance of synthetic surfaces (fields and playgrounds) and instead prioritize state-of-the-art natural surface materials to build playgrounds and fields.

While we appreciate the arguments that drove past support for synthetic surfaces, a growing set of data is revealing that synthetic surfaces endanger public health and the environment as well as proving to be a poor use of public funds. This new information is cause to reconsider the state’s support for this approach.

We urge your support for HB 505 (Delegate Aruna Miller) and SB 763 (Senator Roger Manno), which would prohibit the use of state funds that largely have come in the form of Program Open Space, matching grants, and bond bills, for these purposes.

What is synthetic turf?

Plastic synthetic turf is a urethane-backed carpet of colored plastic “blades” on top of a foundation of rocks with soil removed.  The plastic contains toxic chemicals such as plasticizers, UV inhibitors, colorants, and flame retardants.  Typically, synthetic turf has 30,000 to 50,000 pulverized used tires added for cushioning impacts from falls. This tire crumb waste contains even more toxic substances, including heavy metals such as lead, benzothiazoles, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, carbon black, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene.  Many of these substances are known carcinogens, neurotoxins or endocrine disruptors. Playgrounds made of synthetic surfaces use shredded tires bound with glue, and present many of the same problems.

Growing Safety Concerns

Safety is a constant concern with synthetic surfaces. Issues include hazardous over-heating, unexpected failure of infill to cushion (hardness hazard), sanitation problems, and injuries including increased skin abrasions and more frequent joint injury to knees and ankles.

Known Environmental Risk

Synthetic surfaces also encourage poor environmental practices. Despite many claims from the industry that this is a “green” or “recycled” product, it is not.  With the growing number of used tires, combined with the prohibition for their disposal in landfills, new markets for this hazardous waste product emerge.  However, using old tires in playing fields and playgrounds is not real recycling.  It just brings the landfill to the playing field for a time, spreading toxins into the environment and into people, before eventually heading back to the landfill.

Other environmental concerns include leaching of toxic chemicals and heavy metals into the ground and water along with with micro debris plastic pollution from the weathering carpet and tire crumb in-fill. The frequent replacement carpets are a wasteful use of virgin petroleum- based plastic when a renewable resource (natural grass) is available. Other problems include use of harsh chemicals to disinfect the plastic carpets (a public safety concern), and the heat-island effect along with excess water use to cool down hazardously hot fields on warm sunny days.

There are viable alternatives

Promises of limited maintenance costs, durability and availability for year round use, and reduced need for pesticides and fertilizers initially made synthetic surfaces a popular material for playgrounds and fields. However, as this generation of infilled synturf field’s and playgrounds limitations become apparent, and as they fail and must be replaced at high cost, it is a good time to pause and review the alternatives.

Much progress has been made in the cost, quality, and durability of natural grass turf. The current state-of-the-art of grass sports fields limit or eliminate chemical inputs while becoming more durable and playable in most conditions. They are also cost-effective. The environmental benefits of grass surfaces are the opposite of the environmental harms of synturf, they filter water, oxygenate the air and provide safe, softer, practical, sustainable, and healthy surfaces to play on. Wood fiber playgrounds are also best for fall protection and are ADA compliant when installed correctly.

We shouldn’t experiment with our children’s health

Indications of negative health repercussions that mainly target children outweigh the promised but overhyped benefits of synthetic surfaces. Many of the chemicals in synthetic surfaces are known to be toxic to children at any levels. For example, the industry acknowledges, that the dangerous heavy metal, lead, is found in dust from the fields. There is NO safe level of lead for child exposure according to the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics. In another example, clusters of blood cancers in athletes who spend the most time on artificial turf with tire waste infill have been reported (they represent the ‘canaries on the sports field”). Concussions have also been linked to the fact that these surfaces soon become too hard.

With mounting evidence of health, environmental, and economic risk associated with synthetic surfaces, it is irresponsible to continue to use taxpayer dollars to construct fields, regardless of any purported advantage. We can and must use the principle of precaution when our children’s health, safety and future are at stake. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environment
Katie Huffling, Executive Director
[email protected]

Audubon Naturalist Society
Eliza Cava, Director of Conservation
[email protected]

Eco-Healthy Child Care
Kristie Trousdale
[email protected]

Maryland Environmental Health Network
Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, Executive Director
[email protected]

Maryland PIRG
Emily Scarr, Director
[email protected]

MOM’s Organic Market
Alixandra (Ali) DySard, Environmental & Partnership Manager
[email protected]

Montgomery Countryside Alliance
Caroline Taylor, Ex. Director
[email protected]

Montgomery County Civic Federation
Peggy Dennis, Past President
[email protected]

Montgomery County Green Democrats
Sheldon Fishman, President
[email protected]

Safe Grow Montgomery
Ling Tan, Steering Committee Member
[email protected]

Safe and Healthy Playing Fields Coalition
Diana Conway, Board Member
[email protected]

Saving Earth
Sylvia Diss, Co-Chair
[email protected]

Sierra Club Maryland Chapter
Josh Tulkin, Director
[email protected]

The Woman’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County
Ginger Macomber, WDC Advocacy Committee Co-Chair and Board Member

West Montgomery County Citizens Association (WMCCA)
Ginny Barnes, President
www.wmcca.org

The Women’s Alliance for Democracy and Justice
Toni Evans, Jean Gearon, Chris Lock
[email protected]