September 27, 2022
(Port Jefferson, NY) Concerns about toxic runoff and chemical exposures prompted Port Jefferson, New York, residents to voice opposition during a school board meeting on Sept. 6 about funding for a crumb rubber athletic field at their local schools.
The Port Jefferson school board held a special meeting to hear from the public about using taxpayer dollars to pay for a crumb rubber athletic field for the town’s middle and high school. Despite concerns voiced at the meeting by several residents about possible health and environmental impacts of crumb rubber turf, the board voted a week later to add a $1.8 million bond to a Dec. 12 community vote.
The bond, listed as “Proposition 2” on the ballot, is in addition to a $23 million bond, “Proposition 1,” for critical infrastructure improvements at the town’s middle and high schools, according to the school board.
“We are the only school that does not have turf, which puts us at a bit of a disadvantage,” Amy Whitman, a Port Jefferson high school senior, said. Games have been canceled because of the poor conditions of the schools’ natural grass field.
Crumb rubber infill used in artificial turf fields is made of ground-up pieces of used tires and packed in-between synthetic blades of grass meant to mimic the look and feel of natural grass. The industry markets crumb rubber as safe, environmentally friendly, cost-effective, maintenance-free and has been used since the late 1990s, according to the Synthetic Turf Council.
However, pulverized used tires contain a variety of heavy metals and organic contaminants, including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, vanadium, zinc, and acetone, according to a 2014 review by Stanford University.
As more municipalities switch to crumb rubber playing fields, state and federal entities are raising questions about its possible health impacts. A bill was introduced to the New York State Senate in March 2021 that called for a moratorium on installing synthetic turf, but it has not been calendared for a vote. The Environmental Protection Agency is studying possible chemical exposures to artificial turf to help fill in gaps in knowledge about the material.
Charlie Backfish, a resident of Port Jefferson since 1972, reminded the board at the meeting that the high school and surrounding neighborhood are in the groundwater contamination plume of the Lawrence Aviation property – a designated EPA superfund site for the dumping of hazardous chemicals.
“All of the issues that have come about from that [Lawrence Aviation] with respect to environmental consequences, maybe we should put the brakes on [Proposition 2], and see what comes down in terms of an environmental study,” Backfish said.
Residents are expected to vote on both propositions on Dec. 12.