As questions surrounding the impacts using of recycled tires on synthetic turf fields surface, the San Mateo City Council is treading carefully as it plans a multi-million dollar revamp of Los Prados Park.
After spending more than two years contemplating the first city-owned artificial turf, the City Council decided Tuesday it would not use the controversial, yet common, crumb rubber infill.
Instead, city staff will continue to evaluate current studies and data on the use of EPDM, manufactured virgin rubber, and TPE, a combination of manufactured plastic and rubber, as infill alternatives, said Recreation Division Manager Paul Council.
The proposal to replace nearly 4.2 acres of grass at the park well used for soccer, baseball and softball off Bahia Street is now set to cost the city between $2.5 million and nearly $3 million — an increase from the $2.27 million it would have cost should the city have settled on using recycled tires.
“This project represents a significant investment and it’s important that we resolve all possible issues and questions before we install something that could become a problem later,” Mayor Maureen Freschet wrote in an email. “This is clearly a situation where we should err on the side of caution and proceed only when we can do so with total confidence that we are not creating a health hazard for our kids.”
The benefits of using synthetic turf to create a year-round field requiring less water and maintenance are well known. Yet the consequential impacts to human health and the environment, such as potential exposure to carcinogens found in tires, are still contemplated.
Staff reviewed dozens of studies concerning the potential impacts of using recycled tires and gave credence to those sponsored by government agencies or peer-reviewed scientific data. While questions remain, there wasn’t a clear indication of adverse impacts, Council said.
“There’s a wide range of health issues that are in play, there’s a wide range of environmental issues that are in play. But in general, our reading of it is that there’s relative consistency to the findings of those. There’s not contradictory studies that we were able to find that met our criteria of being either government sponsored or peer reviewed,” Council said.
Except for the fields at Cañada College and in San Carlos, which use organic materials as infill, the majority of the synthetic turfs in San Mateo County are composed of recycled crumb rubber, Council said.
Councilman David Lim questioned whether the project should proceed at all; particularly with pending legislation authored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, that seeks further analysis of the health impacts and potentially bans further fields from being produced.
“My first preference is to delay the project to see if [Hill’s] bill allows for more detailed research of all materials,” Lim wrote in an email. “I am not comfortable with moving forward on this project until we have a better idea of the health risks to members of our community.”
Hill’s Senate Bill 47 would require state public and environmental health departments to study the effects of using used tires and whether there is a correlation to health concerns such as cancer. If approved, Hill’s legislation could put a two-year moratorium on synthetic turfs made of crumb rubber, banning any school or local government from installing one between 2016 and 2018.
As the council opted not to consider recycled tires as a potential, San Mateo’s project would be exempt should the legislation become law.
Newly appointed Councilman Rick Bonilla was unable to attend the council’s study session Tuesday on the matter and the remainder were split on which manufactured infill the city should seek as an alternative. City staff will continue to research the use of EPDM and TPE before bring another proposal forward to council for discussion and possible action, Council said.
Although crumb rubber is the most common infill option used locally and across the country, Council said Palo Alto is considering TPE and the Los Angles Unified School District is looking at EPDM as possible materials for their new turfs.
The Los Prados Synthetic Turf Project was originally slated to use crumb rubber, however the Planning Commission recommended Jan. 27 to look at alternates due to increasing awareness of potential health impacts.
At Tuesday’s meeting, there “was a good deal of dialogue about the alternate infill materials and the tradeoffs that exist both financially and performance wise,” Council said. “Sen. Hill is a respected part of our community and a leader in the state and the fact that he’s raised these issues, I think everyone’s been attentive to that.”
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the Los Prados Park turf conversion 7 p.m. Monday, March 2 at City Hall, 330 W. 20th Ave.
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