Fake turf, real apprehension

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2008 at 6:36 pm

Sunday, June 22, 2008



CDC instructions advise all who set a toe on one of these fields to remove all clothing as soon as possible.

Mike Kelly is a Record columnist. Contact him at kellym@northjersey.com.

WE LIVE in wondrous times. We no longer need real grass for football, soccer, baseball and lacrosse. We have artificial turf, made from plastic, nylon and ground-up car and truck tires.

But now we worry.

Recent tests on fake turf fields at four high schools in northern New Jersey revealed high levels of lead. And now comes a truly wondrous message from the federal government – actually a special advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC advisory, which was released late last week, is actually a set of instructions for anyone who uses an artificial turf field. Pay attention to the vocabulary here. In this bizarre debate, vocabulary is perhaps the only thing worth laughing about.

At the top of the list of CDC instructions is this: Anyone who steps onto a fake field should wash “aggressively” afterwards.

Yes, you read that right: Wash aggressively. No more quick showers to save water. If you play, you get sprayed, the advisory says.

It doesn’t matter if you have spent three hours kicking a soccer ball or five minutes throwing a coach’s temper tantrum. If you step on that plastic turf, you need to wash your mouth – and everything else – with some serious soap and water for at least 20 seconds on all exposed body parts.

But that’s not all.

Remove your clothing

The instructions ask all athletes – and anyone else who sets a toe on one of these fields – to remove all clothing as soon as possible.

Naked soccer? Lacrosse au naturel? Baseball in the buff?

The possibilities are endless.

But the instructions don’t end there. The CDC recommends that all sports uniforms worn on fake fields should be turned inside out to avoid spreading “dust.”

Apparently, the uniforms tend to get coated with ground-up bits of tires and other “artificial” items that are dangerous to your health and wardrobe.

But again, that’s not all.

The final instruction is this: All clothing worn on an artificial field should be washed separately from other items. Besides the “delicate” cycle on washing machines, maybe now we need the “fake turf” cycle.

In other words, the CDC wasn’t kidding when it advised athletes and others to wash aggressively.

They’re not laughing, either.

Indeed, this is no laughing matter. But the story of the growth of artificial athletic fields is full of irony.

From town recreation fields in Franklin Lakes, Wayne and Fort Lee to more than two dozen public and private high schools across northern New Jersey, artificial turf fields are a growing trend. But here’s the irony: Many of these fields – especially those built for municipal parks – were funded by state Green Acres grants.

That’s right, money, set aside by state law, to preserve New Jersey’s natural environment was used to buy a fake environment.

Buy first, test later

But perhaps the most outrageous piece of irony is this: Scientists knew that artificial turf fields might cause health and environmental problems. But in the rush for improved athletic and recreational facilities – and use of those Green Acres dollars — far too many bureaucrats opted to install the fake fields first, then test for hazards later.

So last week, we learned that the lead content of the fake turf at Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes was six times the state standard and the lead content of the Indian Hills High School field in Oakland was seven times higher. The fields will be closed during summer, school authorities said.

“We’re not going to be using either of our fields until we complete further testing,” said Paul Saxton, the superintendent for the Ramapo Indian Hills school district.

But testing is one thing. What if those additional tests confirm high lead levels? What then? Remove the fake turf and start over? And who pays for this?

Fake fields, by the way, don’t come cheap. A basic soccer and football field goes for around $2 million.

The news of high lead levels at the Ramapo and Indian Hills high schools comes on the heels of similar revelations at the Northern Valley Regional High School District’s artificial fields in Old Tappan and in Demarest. Initially, the district considered canceling graduation ceremonies, scheduled for the fields.

But other tests revealed “acceptable” lead levels. How comforting.

Meanwhile, a group called the Synthetic Turf Council issued a statement in praise of the new tests.

“Our industry is proud of its unblemished record of human health and environmental safety,” the council said.

Really now. The same statement underscored the inherent paradox of these fake turf fields. “Lead chromate has been used in a number of synthetic turf fields,” the council acknowledged.

But then the council said we should not be worried. “Lead chromate’s extremely low bioavailability prevents it from being readily absorbed by the human body,” the statement said.

But if lead chromate is so safe, why does the New Jersey Department of Health suggest that children under age 7 be prohibited from playing on fields with high lead levels?

That sort of question never seems to be answered. The state continues to find high levels of lead in artificial turf, but the fake turf manufacturers and their lobbyists claim we shouldn’t worry.

Comforting, isn’t it?

  1. What a misinformed fear-mongering idiot.

  2. Overreact first, restore sanity when politically convenient.

  3. Does anyone know that a private group has initiated a plan to put turf in the Stadium Field and Stevens Field at RHS, a la Maple Park East? Any opinions based on the recent issues throughout the state and rest of the country?

  4. Would you prefer an investment in a planning process for any turf field to be funded out of your tax dollars? People can do with their money as they choose. This group has chosen to see what’s possible in order to replace the joint hellholes of the RHS “stadium” and Stevens Swamp.

  5. Well bill, that sounds like a great idea to me. If Ridgewood could get a brand new awsome facitlity with no tax dollars that is a great thing.
    Best Regards,
    THE bill

  6. I agree that the existing fields are not ideal. They flood several times a year because they are low in the flood plain. If they don’t resolve the drainage issues then guess who gets hit with the repair bills? The taxpayers. I do support private investment and supported the Maple Park East project, but not all of these projects can be judged or justified the same way.

  7. Excuse me, don’t we, the taxpayers, own these fields? Where do these “private citizens” get the right to develop our property without our say so? If this is allowed, you might come home one night to find you house has been knocked down because “private citizens” have determined that it wasn’t suitable for the neighborhood.

    I’d also like to know if there has been any uniformity to the analytical methodologies used to test these fields. As we all know, you can prove anything with satistics and the analytical method used will give you the answer you’re looking for. Also, those paying for the testing have a very considerable interest in having the tests come out negative.

  8. This is unbeleivable. Did the person who thought it was appropriate to post this read the post immediately below, entitled “North Maple Turf Field Analysis Report Safe Conditions?” Apparently not!! I guess the facts still don’t matter, as long as they don’t support the dillusional rantings of a few misinformed residents.

    Mike Kelly at the Record clearly needs to do some more homework. Does it strike anyone else that the Record’s reporting on this issue suggests an anti-turf agenda? Maybe that is what it takes to sell newspapers.

    I am glad to see that the Village Council took the initiative to test Maple Field, without turning it into a circus event. Now that the test results have confirmed what we were assured was the case all along, it is time to end this discussion, once and forever.

    I have no doubt that the anti-turf crowd will come out with some new outrageous claim. But, all I have to say is THANK YOU to anyone who had a hand in the intallation of turf at Maple Park. It has been transformed from a scraggly unkept field, infested with mosquitos and goose droppings that no children would ever CHOOSE to play on, into a beautiful “park” that is enjoyed by children and adults alike. It has changed the way our fields are used and improved the condition of our remaining grass fields. I recently saw a tape of MSG’s television coverage of one of the RHS lacrosse games. The announcers raved about the beauty of Ridgewood and, specifically, Maple Park. That would never have been the case if the game had been played at the RHS field.

    We now understand that there are differences between various turf designs. Fortunately, the Village Council did their homework and chose one that does not pose a health risk. Our field is not only safe, it had virtually UNDETECTABLE lead content in both the soil and dust tests.

    Do you think any of the fear mongers and wannabe environmentalists feel silly for insisting that the “field doesn’t drain as well as grass” or that “we must shower after playing on Maple Field to remove lead dust and disinfect our clothes”? Will they appologize for their accusations and attacks or the irresponsible misinformation they posted on this blog? Not likely.

    But if they have any character at all, they might at least be willing to accept that the FieldTurf field and gardens at Maple Park are a good thing, and maybe we should consider following through with the Master Plan recommendations to install similar fields at RHS.

  9. The Lacrosse Dads are worked up ! I love it….

  10. Looks like the CDC has some explaining to do. Someone should let the Record know about Ridgewood’s results.

  11. Hey 5:51…

    Private citizens didn’t “develop” Maple Park. The Village did, and Village Council followed the same procedure that they would when making any improvements to the Village infrastructure. It was all out in the public domain. Where you are confused is that it was largely PAID FOR by private donations under a public-private partnership, which is increasingly common today.

    Where were your concerns about testing standards when there were reports of unusually high lead levels on FieldTurf in Demarest and Ramapo that were totally inconsistent with results found on FieldTurf fields in Newark and Hoboken a month earlier? Or, are you one of those people, who only thinks the “system is working” when you agree with it?

  12. I’m not a risk assessor but I do work with them on a regular basis and I am a CEP (Certified Environmental Professional). Risk assessment generally HIGHLY conservative inputs such as the kids play on the field 18 hours a day, respire every particle of contaminant available, they pla seven days a week, the kids don’t ever shower and there is are direct point of absorbtion. Hence, the action levels are highly conservative.

    What I’d really like to see is a comparison of risk of cancer or lead poisoning (at these actions levels it’s probably based on a “one in 1 million” scenario) vs. the risk of diabetes, obesity, or heart disease in our youth. Isn’t the obesity rate in the U.S. now approaching 30%. I’ll take the 10 to the minus 6 risk vs. the 1 in 3 risk anyday.

    I don’t love the turf and ideally, I’d like to see nice hardy grasses. But I don’t think anyone can argue that the turf allows the fields to be used by more children, more often. We’ve got to get our kids out from behing the WII and Playstation and into the light and air.


  13. Yesterday, early evening, the girls of RHS graduating class of 2008 walked out of the high school and onto the grass field of the stadium in their bare feet, carrying their high heels in hand. This has been a tradition for decades.

    I can’t imagine them walking in high heels across a turf field either, can you?

    If the LAX dad’s have their way, the girls will be forced to bring two pairs of shows to graduation. A flat pair to wear on the turf, otherwise their feet will turn black from the ground up tire pellets, and their high heels.

    If for some reason it is a hot summer night, all on that field will bake from the radiant heat created by a turf field.

    Now, all you jocks can dismiss this but it is a part of Ridgewood’s tradition. And to throw it away because you want a plastic surface for your sons to play on is short sited and selfish.

    Go ahead, knock yourselves out, turf Stevens. But leave the natural beauty that graces the campus of our high school alone.

    Say no to turf at RHS stadium!

  14. The fields at the High School are owned by the Board of Ed. Village officials have distanced themselves from the project as not in their jurisdiction. Despite the issues of whether or not the fields are safe (see previous threads beating a dead horse) there are a number of other issues involved:

    1. No Parking – Maple Park East has plenty of parking adjacent to the field and overflow capacity at Graydon. There isn’t enough parking for High School events now and increasing the use of the fields will only exacerbate the problem.

    2. Flooding: anyone who has tried to get down Irving Ave, along Stevens Field, during a major storm knows that it is impassible and frequently closed. What is the impact on any turf installation?

    I know Stevens Field is in a protected zone designated by the DEP (not sure about Stadium Field) and you cannot change the existing grade or the elevation.

    3. Neighborhood Impact: Maple Park is somewhat secluded from the surrounding residents, as is Stadium Field. Stevens Field is opposite residences on 2 of the 3 sides. I am sure the are not going to be too happy about having a zillion watts of lights outside their front and back yards.

  15. I agree with the 10:35 post. I think most reasonable people agree with you. In fact it shows where you stand if you are against a FREE field improvement. If that is your stance, then you are just unreasonably stubborn and have some kind or irrational aversion to these fields or maybe you just hate athletics in general. My opinion is that we should install a new field and track within the school budget for capital improvements as one of the high priority improvements we need. I recognize some people might have a different view on how the budget should be spent and I think there is where the debate is legitimate. Although, I still feel the town and the kids would be better served with a new field at RHS. If the town is lucky enough to get it done cheaper or for free we should not be a bunch of morons and refuse the charity because of a few irrational nut jobs. Hey, did you know the Giants play on a new field turf surface? I wonder if the “watchdog” group of pot smokers from California have tested Giants Stadium? What about Rutgers, Montclair State U, Boston College, U Conn, Columbia, Dartmouth, Navy, Army, Air Force and tons of other schools and teams? Even British soccer which one only permitted real grass due to injury concerns, now has these fields (Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea). I will bet my mortgage the NFL and the NCAA will not be replacing all these great fields. When I was a kid almost all athletes agreed astro turf was not as good and was more dangerous for injuries. This is now exactly the opposite with the new field turf.
    Thanks to a few jerks that seem to have something against sports, kids safety, quality of life, the environment and everything great about athletics for our kids I am skeptical we will ever see an improved field at RHS. It has pretty much been the same at RHS and Stevens since the 50’s and probably longer. So I suppose it is no worse to have it this way. It is a shame that we can’t even take charity to give our kids something better.

    Biz Green: Football goes green*

    Hitting paydirt on the gridiron is becoming more environmentally friendly as more and more stadiums use FieldTurf, a blend of synthetics, sand and recycled tires.

  16. I’m not against turf, but why is the issue of the flood way being ignored. There are other sites in town that have better parking and don’t flood on a regular basis. Why not the Horse Farm on Hillcrest. That could be an awesome sports center.

  17. re: “Why not the Horse Farm on Hillcrest. That could be an awesome sports center.”

    Ummmm.. Because its in the heart of the Willard District.

  18. The reason no one is talking about the flood plain is because this issue was thoroughly vetted during the years of planning that went into Maple Field. Stevens and RHS are in the same flood plain and the issue will be no different with either of them. The fact is that FieldTurf’s design will accomodate significantly more rainfall BEFORE it begins to run off into the brook. This means that flooding on the field that is currently caused by heavy rains, not from overflow of the brook, will be virtually eliminated. If the brook overflows onto the field, there is nothing that can prevent that (with grass or FieldTurf). However, FieldTurf will be playable within hours. Grass can take days to become playable after such incidents.

  19. “Yesterday, early evening, the girls of RHS graduating class of 2008 walked out of the high school and onto the grass field of the stadium in their bare feet, carrying their high heels in hand. This has been a tradition for decades” ARE YOU KIDDING? WHY?

    I did not see one barefoot girl. This “tradition” was not known to the girls at my graduation party. A lot of girls take their shoes off at the dinner dance. It is a lot easier to dance barefoot.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: