Westchester School Districts Switch To Organic Turf; Still No Consensus On Safety Of Synthetics

A trio of local schools districts have switched to organic turf sports fields due to safety concerns. Here’s what parents need to know.

Pleasantville, Irvington, and Bronxville school districts will become the first three in Westchester to install turf fields made with organic filler instead of synthetic turf fields. The move comes in response to safety concerns raised by local families.

This summer, Pleasantville will replace their two synthetic turf fields which have been in use since 2002. Both Irvington and Bronxville residents voted for the organic filler to be used when building their new turf facilities, which have both been approved but have not yet begun construction.

According to the Synthetic Turf Council, there are more than 8,000 synthetic turf fields in use across North America, including almost half of NFL teams and a growing number of FIFA world cup teams. The popularity of these fields has grown over the years due to the fact turf requires less maintenance than natural grass, needing no water or fertilizer to create an all-year-round playing surface.

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Over the past few years, however, there have been concerns by parents over the safety of the traditional turf filler, which is made of recycled tire rubber. Tires are made from around 30 hazardous substances, including lead. Though no direct link has been established between synthetic filler and illnesses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn on their website that as turf fields age, their fibers let off lead as dust that can be harmful if inhaled or ingested.   

The newer, eco-friendly filler is typically made of a mixture of coconut and cork. One of the main downsides of organic turf infill is that it needs to be “topped off” every three to four years, while rubber turf only needs to be maintained every eight years, Lee Defreitas, the territory manager for Georgia-based Shaw Sports Turf, the company supplying the Pleasantville schools, told The Journal News.

Amy Griffin, the assistant women’s soccer coach at the University of Washington, has been working with Environment & Human Health, Inc., to track the link of artificial turf with cancer in athletes. As of February 2015, she had identified 126 college athletes who developed cancer after playing on turf. Many of these athletes had lymphoma or leukemia, two cancers that have been tied to butadiene and benzene—chemicals that are both found in rubber tires.

Despite these concerns, many federal agencies, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency, have published their own reports that found rubber fillers did not pose a health threat.

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