(Photo by Morgan Genser)

Amid ongoing concerns over the potential toxicity of crumb rubber, the City of Santa Monica is in the process of replacing Airport Park’s turf field.

The $816,000 project, which includes the removal of the current turf and the installation of a new artificial field, began Jan. 8 and is expected to be completed later this month, according to Darrell Baker, the city’s public landscape superintendent.

The replacement project follows City Council’s approval of a contract with Texas-based Hellas Construction in early December.

The project comes at a time of intensifying scrutiny of crumb rubber, which is used as an infill on turf athletic fields across the country. The small black pellets are made from recycled scrap tires that some scientists, elected officials and sports activists have suspected of causing cancer.

“With all the talk of crumb rubber and whether it’s toxic or not, the City decided to remove the crumb rubber,” Baker said.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has begun a study of “the potential health impacts associated with playing on synthetic turf fields,” according to an October memo. Public meetings will be held throughout the $2.9-million study, which is scheduled for completion in mid-2018.

The state’s current study will build on two previous investigations into the effects of the chemicals used in crumb rubber. The study is being funded by CalRecycle, a state agency that has awarded millions of dollars in grants to cities and schools for the installation of crumb-rubber turf fields.

Crumb rubber has been used as an infill at Airport Park since a turf field was initially installed there about eight years ago. All of the other city fields in Santa Monica feature natural grass, Baker said.

The new turf infill at Airport Park will be made of zeolite material, which is sometimes used in cat litter boxes. A new cushioning pad will also be placed under the turf carpet, which Baker said is similar to the one that is being replaced.

Games and activities that were scheduled to be held at Airport Park during the replacement project have been moved to other fields.

The field at Airport Park, 3201 Airport Ave., has been used primarily for soccer by youth sports organizations, local high school teams and recreational adult leagues. The Canadian women’s national team hosted an event there in May.

Concerns about crumb rubber have grown since former U.S. national team player Amy Griffin began keeping a list of soccer players and other athletes who have been diagnosed with cancer after playing on synthetic turf.

Councilman Kevin McKeown said he first heard about concerns over crumb rubber from the city’s environment task force, but added that the astroturf needed to be replaced anyway. He said turf is more durable than natural grass but that it still wears with use over time.

“In funding the necessary replacement of worn artificial turf, at a time when we are also expanding Airport Park,” he said, “the Council is making sure that our new turf is not only more durable but also safer than the products generally available a decade ago.”