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Even at Rec Level, Synthetic Turf Controversies Continue

8 Jul, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic
Despite FIFA Women’s Outcome, Grass Isn’t Always Greener

When a number of athletes slated to play in the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup objected to playing on artificial turf while the men played on grass, it raised again some of the controversy regarding that surface.

Despite the fact that the women ultimately backed down on their fight and the championship went on as planned, the arguments have persisted on every level – including those involving rec fields.

The Glen Ellyn Park District in Illinois is currently fighting a legal challenge to an artificial turf field brought by neighbors who say synthetic turf presents an environmental hazard and could cause chemicals to migrate from the field to their own yards.

According to local news source The Daily Herald, the Glen Ellyn Park District will pursue plans to install artificial turf on a Newton Park field after a DuPage County judge denied a bid from neighbors to suspend construction. Though a status hearing has been set for September 28th to review the suit, the field is expected to be completed by then and already in use by local youth and high school teams, which means it’s a likely victory for the park district.

"There's no realistic possibility that a judge is going to say 'rip it up,'" Derke Price, an attorney for the park district told The Daily Herald. "It is safe."

The plaintiff, Nancy Perlman, resides near the planned field. Perlman stated in her lawsuit that installation of the artificial turf will “render the air around her property unwholesome and unfit to breathe, especially during the installation of the artificial turf field and the weeks immediately afterward.” The judge who heard the case rejected the allegations, calling them “speculative.”

In late February, a report released by the Connecticut Department of Public Health found “no relevant health risks” to children and adults playing on synthetic fields. The executive summary of the report is here. This was made in response to an earlier NBC News report claiming synthetic fields were unsafe.

Supporters say that not only is artificial turf safe, it’s more durable, it’s resistant to seasonal weather changes and it helps recycle old tires that would otherwise wind up in landfills. Opponents say even if it doesn’t cause long-term health consequences, it puts players at greater risk of superficial injuries and is uncomfortably hot. The Washington Post recently reported that at the kick-off of the Women’s World Cup in Edmonton on June 6th, the temperature of the artificial turf was measured at 120 degrees, though the air was only 75 degrees.

In parts of New York, Massachusetts and California, state legislators have put forth proposals for moratoriums on new construction of artificial turf fields until safety issues can be more fully examined. Though no state or municipality has yet banned the substance, several health departments are currently undertaking more complete research to evaluate the safety of crumb rubber.

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