On a recent tour of Airport Park, Santa Monica-Malibu school district officials got what might have been a glimpse into the future.
The City of Santa Monica’s recent renovation of the park’s turf field came amid mounting concerns about the potential toxicity of crumb rubber, which had been used as an infill, and now the local school district is mulling what to do about its own synthetic surfaces.
District staffers are developing a plan and budget to replace synthetic turf fields at SMMUSD sites, according to a recent memo by facility director Carey Upton, who will likely present suggestions to the Board of Education in the near future.
The proposed plan includes replacing the synthetic turf on the north section of field at John Adams Middle School this summer, a project that would involve diverting drainage to 17th Street as opposed to having the entire field drain to 16th Street.
Renovation of the field, track and lights at Lincoln Middle School is tentatively scheduled for summer 2017. The project, which would require an environmental impact report, “is highly desired by the school and the City,” according to the memo.
The synthetic football and softball fields at JAMS would be replaced in 2018, according to the proposed plan. Crumb rubber, which some believe to be carcinogenic, is used as an infill for the synthetic fields at Santa Monica High and John Adams Middle schools.
“The surfaces under our play structures are wearing out and will need to be replaced in the next few years,” the memo reads. “Facilities staff recommends continued use of the current play structure surfaces until they require replacement. At that time, we should consider replacing the rubber surfaces with other products that do not threaten our waterways and environment.”
The district is testing a new synthetic grass surface at Franklin Elementary School and Washington West Preschool. Compared to rubber, the coated silica infill is “strongly preferred” but twice as expensive, according to the memo.
Community members have expressed concerns about the health risks associated with crumb rubber, which is typically made of recycled tires. Upton acknowledged the ongoing debate over the issue, saying the science is inconclusive.
He added that district officials are worried that the rubber pellets could end up in the ocean, where fish could mistake it for food.
“There is potential for the district to be significantly fined if this occurs,” the memo reads.
Concerns about crumb rubber have grown since Amy Griffin, a former U.S. women’s national soccer team player, began keeping a list of goalkeepers and other athletes who have been diagnosed with cancer after playing on synthetic turf.
The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is currently studying “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 examination 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.