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HEALTH & SAFETY read more health & safety
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HEALTH & SAFETY COMMISSION RELEASES OFFICIAL STATEMENT

June 7, 2010 press release
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A Letter to the Pelham Community Regarding Synthetic Turf Fields
This letter represents the opinion of a group of local Physicians that were asked to evaluate the health and safety of installing and utilizing synthetic turf fields in our community.  We were asked to evaluate this issue by the Friends of Pelham Sports, a community based organization with the stated goal of improving sports and recreational facilities throughout the Town. We are all Physicians who live in Pelham and have children involved in many of our town sports.  We represent varied medical specialties that have some expertise in the issues regarding the safety of synthetic turf fields.  We are not members of the Friends of Pelham Sports.
Synthetic turf fields have become more common throughout the US with over 3500 installations.  Advocates of synthetic turf fields cite their even playing surfaces, the lack of watering, mowing, fertilizers or pesticides as well as their utility year-round and in most weather; as benefits to their installation.  Critics cite the potential chemical exposure from the components of the fields, as well as the potential to cause virulent skin infections, increases in serious injuries as well as increased heat exposure as complications to their use. 
We have researched what we believe to be the current evidence regarding the safety of installing and using synthetic turf fields in Pelham.  In an effort to educate our community, we have explained our findings below.  We must add a caveat to our findings:  We researched the installation of synthetic turf fields that utilize crumb rubber infill.  Crumb rubber is made from the grinding up of recycled automobile tires into small pellets. It is used as a base layer, often with sand, as a cushion for the playing field. Crumb rubber is utilized in almost all of the newer generation installed fields such as the three fields that are already in use in the Pelham area: The field at the Sports Underdome, the fields at the Omni facility as well as the main field at the NY Athletic Club at Travers Island.  Crumb rubber is also used at most, if not all of the synthetic turf fields in lower Westchester that our children frequently play on while at away games.  There are other types of synthetic fields that utilize non-crumb rubber infill.  They currently have limited installation in our area and we found little to no health and safety research regarding their use.  That being said, they have some potential advantages that should be considered if a decision is made to go forward with an installation.

            First and foremost, our primary goal was to evaluate the safety of these fields in an unbiased way and based on what is known to date.  We believe we have accomplished this.  Second, we must add that there are no long-term studies on the use of these fields and what research there is, is somewhat limited.  That being said, we believe that you can make some generalizations concerning the installation of these fields.  There have been a large number of recent evaluations of crumb rubber turf installations by local city, state and federal organizations that are empowered to protect the public.  Their findings in general, have attested to the safety of synthetic turf.  We have included some of these conclusions in this statement and we will submit our full list of references to be available on the Friends of Pelham Sports Website.

 

There have been a few distinct concerns that have been raised regarding these fields and we will address our findings regarding the issues separately.  

  1. Chemical Exposure:  There appears to be no significant health concern related to the ingestion, dermal exposure or inhalation exposure related to crumb rubber fields. 
  2. Infection Issues:  There appears to be no significant risk of developing virulent infections due to playing on synthetic turf fields.  There may be an increased risk of developing skin abrasions while playing on synthetic turf fields, and there have been reports of outbreaks of skin infections in athletic teams that play on these fields.  However, there is no evidence that these fields harbor virulent organisms or spread infection.  Rather, studies seem to show that infections are spread as a result of poor locker room hygiene; such has sharing equipment, towels, football pads, etc.  Abrasions may merely serve as a portal of entry.
  3. Injury Issues:  There is no evidence that synthetic turf play leads to an increase in serious injuries.  A different pattern of minor injuries, such as an increase in abrasions, may exist.
  4. Heat Issues: There is no denying that Crumb-rubber fields are significantly hotter than grass fields and it is our opinion that limits on the use of any such field, based on the temperature on the field, should be developed and strictly followed.  We would also ask that development of any such field in Pelham to include shade to rest players in and have water fountains installed on the field.  Children have significant limitations with regard to cooling their bodies as compared to adults and these should be addressed in future designs.

In conclusion, we have looked at what we believe to be the most recent literature regarding the installation of Crumb-rubber fields in an unbiased approach.  We agree that based on this available but limited research, the use of these fields is not likely to pose a risk to our community, especially if we follow some simple guidelines regarding the temperature of the field.  We believe that we as a community need to balance the known substantial benefits of having such a field with the largely unsubstantiated safety concerns.   
Other options that could be considered would include the use of other infill systems that do not use crumb rubber.  There are so called “organic-infills” that are less known, less utilized and less studied.  These offer some advantages especially with regards to the heat issue.  Some synthetic turf products are now offering other man-made materials as infills that are not recycled.  These offer some control of the potential hazardous materials that are found in low-levels in recycled crumb-rubber and may also pose less of a heat hazard. Some municipalities (including New York City) have moved to using these types of products.

We have listed some specific statements from references below that will hopefully ease minds and explain somewhat how we arrived at our findings:

  1. FACT SHEET CRUMB RUBBER SYNTHETIC TURF ATHLETIC FIELDS

New York State Department of Health, 2008

“Our review of the available information on crumb rubber and crumb rubber infilled turf fields indicates that ingestion, dermal or inhalation exposures to chemicals in or released from crumb rubber do not pose a significant public health concern.”
“While injury studies have not consistently identified differences in abrasion and laceration risks between natural and infilled synthetic turf, some types of synthetic turf may result in more skin abrasions.  Although very few tests have been performed, the available data do not suggest the widespread presence of infectious agents, such as MRSA, on synthetic turf fields. Also, the available information indicates that outdoor or indoor synthetic turf surfaces are no more likely to harbor infectious agents than other
surfaces in those same environments.

“Although the ability of the studies to detect differences in the injury rates was limited by the small number of injuries reported, the studies concluded that there were no major differences in overall injury rates between natural and infilled synthetic turf.”

“Because of the potential for high temperatures on infilled synthetic turf fields, it is important that people who play or work on the fields be provided with adequate warnings regarding the potential for heat stress.  People should also be advised to remain hydrated and to seek relief from the heat in shaded areas.”

 

  1. A REVIEW OF THE POTENTIAL HEALTH AND SAFETY RISKS FROM SYNTHETIC TURF FIELDS CONTAINING CRUMB RUBBER INFILL

            New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 2008

“To date, eleven human health risk assessments were identified that evaluated exposure to the constituents in crumb rubber. Although each risk assessment was conducted using distinct assumptions and evaluated different concentrations of COPCs (Chemical of potential concern) in crumb rubber, all had a similar conclusion: exposure to COPCs from the crumb rubber may occur, however the degree of exposure is likely to be too small through ingestion, dermal or inhalation to increase the risk for any health effect.”

“Studies among school and professional athletes have shown that although synthetic turf
abrasions provide a means of access for infections, transmission of infection occurs via
physical contact, sharing of equipment, and poor sanitary practices. Another study found
that synthetic turf systems are not a hospitable environment for microbial activity.
However, an increased number of abrasion injuries could increase the risk of various
infections if other safeguards aren’t maintained”

“Concerns over the potential for increased injuries associated with the use of synthetic turf systems have led to a number of studies among athletes to evaluate any differences in injury rates, injury types, and lost time between synthetic and natural turf materials. These studies have shown either no major differences in the incidence, severity, nature or cause of injuries sustained on natural grass or synthetic turf by men or women, or that injury rates are similar but that the type of injury varies between the two surfaces”

“Synthetic turf fields with crumb rubber have heat-absorbing properties and can retain elevated temperatures at their surface. This increase in temperature of the turf system may increase the risk of heat-related illness among field users”

 

Our full list of references will be submitted to the Friends of Pelham Sports Website.
Respectfully submitted,

Michael Lahn, M.D.     Rich Morel, M.D.
Lou Catalano, M.D.     Arlene Silverio, M.D.
Carlos Salama, M.D

 

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