Facing criticism and questions from parents and community members on the school district’s turf field plans, the Board of Education voted Tuesday night to spend an additional $27,250 on the controversial crumb rubber fill for the field.
District taxpayers in May voted to approve $1.2 million in new borrowing to fund the design and construction of the all-purpose turf field.
Board trustee Greg Meyer, who first proposed the turf field — something parents of student athletes have advocated — proposed using a crumb rubber product called “Cool Fill,” which he said was “the same exact rubber pellet product” the district has contracted for except that it is dipped in a green paint. Meyer told the other board members that “it can lower the temperature at the field quite a few degrees,” although, he explained, most of the heat does not come from the fill itself; the bulk of the heat comes from the blades of the turf.
The cost of buying Cool Fill for the district’s field would be approximately $55,000, but the company supplying the crumb rubber has agreed to provide it for an extra $27,250, which would cover the cost of painting the pellets.
Meyer reported several reasons he recommended using crumb rubber rather than coconut husk fill, as suggested by some critics.
He explained that coconut fill has several drawbacks including cost, need for extra irrigation, extra padding, and the fact that because it’s so powdery it can blow away. He said that the coconut fill would be “at least $250,000 extra [because] if you think about it, you can bounce off rubber a lot easier than you can bounce off coconut, meaning that you need extra layer of padding under the turf.” The coconut fill also has to be kept damp so that it doesn’t blow away. That requires an irrigation system to water the field periodically he said.
Doing “due diligence,” Meyer said, the district contacted the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Health and the New York State Department of Education for information about rubber fill’s safety. None of them had anything to say, “yay or nay” about the using crumb rubber. He stressed that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the only agency currently studying the safety of crumb rubber. Their study is due out in January, but the study results have been delayed a couple of times already, he said.
“There is nothing to say that crumb rubber is good. There is nothing to say that crumb rubber is bad. We have to go with what the State Education Department would allow us to do,” said Meyer.
The EPA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in February “launched a multi-agency action plan to study key environmental human health questions,” according to the EPA webpage about federal research on recycled tire crumb used on playing fields.
“Limited studies have not shown an elevated health risk from playing on fields with tire crumb, but the existing studies do not comprehensively evaluate the concerns about health risks from exposure to tire crumb,” the agency said. The agencies will release a draft status report by “late 2016,” according to the EPA website. It will describe the findings and conclusions of the research through that point in time and outline any additional research needs and next steps.
Questions about controlling the temperature of the field arose within the last week or two, Meyer said. Temperature seems to be the only factor can be controlled for, he said. And that control only extends to reducing the heat by a couple of degrees, not by being able to bring it down to the temperature of a concrete surface, he stated.
Board member Christopher Dorr wanted to know if coconut fill would cause allergy problems, to which Meyer replied “there’s no answer to that.”
A question arose from the board about the life expectancy of coconut compared to rubber. Meyer reported that coconut fill could be expected to last for about six years whereas rubber would last about 10 years. The Cool Fill warranty is five years, but the district will need to start a “bond issue in about eight years” to finance the cost of replacing the turf itself.
When board president Susan Koukounas called for a vote to approve the motion to spend the additional money, a voice called from the audience that new items on the agenda have to have public comment. The vote was approved before the podium was opened for comment.
Calverton resident and two-time school board candidate Greg Fischer, who has criticized the district’s turf field plan and even threatened to sue the district to stop the field’s construction, took the podium to argued that crumb rubber has many drawbacks, including both cost and safety issues. He said crumb rubber costs more to dispose of than the coconut fiber does because it is a toxic waste and that cost is likely to go up in the future. Crumb rubber is carcinogenic, Fischer charged, and exposing the players to it is dangerous to their health. He also brought up the issue of players getting heat stroke from playing on a hot field.
“Heat stroke is the next concussion,” Fischer said. “It’s the next really dangerous health issue for children. It is progressive. It causes early onset Alzheimer’s and early onset dementia.” Fischer urged the board to reconsider its decision, drawing applause from the 50 or so people in the audience.