|Dr. Bob Barth addresses the school board|
Dr. Barth's wife, board member and former chairman Maria Barth, echoed the ultimatum when she spoke at the board table. This caused a sharp reaction from a few other board members, who pointed out the plan and budget had been public for a while, widely presented and already approved by the voters at Deliberative Session. They worried about a repeat of the Moharimet Cafeteria project, which grew in scope and cost after the warrant article was approved. They further asserted that while they were willing to explore other fills, it would be imprudent to take crumb rubber out of the running before we're sure there's a viable alternative.
Dr. Barth countered in a later comment that the presentations never stated the fill would be tire crumb. Rather than summarize Dr. Barth's comments, here they are in their entirety. I welcome opposing views.
As a retired diagnostic radiologist, also Board certified in radiation therapy, I rise to raise concerns over health issues with respect to crumb rubber in artificial turf. I am a strong supporter of a track and of field improvements, but cannot support an artificial field utilizing crumb rubber.
Considering how long the issue has been under consideration I am concerned that the Sustainability Committee has not, thus far, been involved in the process. I thought the public approved the Sustainability Committee precisely to have input on this type of project.
I am concerned by advice not to quibble over scientific studies, but to visit the orbobcats.com web site for the scientific evidence for the safety of artificial turf. The school is a .org not a .com isn’t it? Therefore, not to my surprise, under Environmental Impact are 5 sections all extolling the safety and virtues of artificial turf and most specifically of tire crumb as though it is a forgone conclusion it is our material of choice. There are 70 referenced articles and the entire site is brought to us by the Synthetic Turf Council the mouthpiece for the industry selling this stuff to us. It’s like asking the tobacco industry in the 1970s if smoking causes lung cancer. Of course it doesn’t. The web site is a blatantly biased commercial, not a balanced source of information for the public. Numerous health experts and scientific papers raise deep concerns.
Here is the definitive article referred by Kevin Gardner’s letter now on the website. Have any of you actually read it? Far from extolling the safety of tire crumb, its longest section calls for the necessity of further research. But why do we need further research if it’s already proven safe? Because, as the article points out many of the studies sited are “limited in quality and number and more are required.” Some of the studies considered were admittedly generated by those with financial interest, i.e., the industry. One section speaks of the possibility of zinc contamination of one million cubic meters of water to the EPA’s maximum for the protection of aquatic life. There are 1.2 tons of zinc in the average crumb rubber soccer field. A final quote from the article: “The human health and environmental risk of artificial turf can be eliminated or reduced by substituting the tire rubber crumb with alternative infill materials containing less hazardous materials.” How’s that for a ringing endorsement for the safety of tire crumb! I’ll leave the article with you as it has an informational table of alternatives to crumb rubber.
Oft referred to as showing the safety of tire crumb this tome from the NYC Department of Public Health is similar and raises more safety questions than it answers. It lists over one hundred chemicals of concern in tire crumb. I looked up about half of them and 18 were listed as carcinogenic to humans or probably so by the EPA. Even if all are individually at relatively low levels what is their cumulative effect over time? Carcinoma of the esophagus is almost always associated with smoking and drinking, not smoking or drinking. There is a definite synergy between the two. Most carcinogens have a long latent period between exposure and malignancy in terms of 5 to 30 years, not months.
How about an admittedly unscientific survey of 38 soccer players with crumb rubber home fields who developed cancers, mostly lymphomas. 34 of them were goal-tenders who frequently dive face-first into the ground creating a cloud of material immediately inhaled and ingested, probably taking in more volume and weight of toxic materials by a factor of a 1000 than players breathing 4 to 5 feet above ground where testing is usually performed. Nothing proven scientifically, but the expected ratio would be around 34 to 300 not 34 to 4. Astronomical odds against simple coincidence. I know of no scientific studies addressing the issue.
So now we’re considering using pulverized tires which contain several known carcinogens and up to 200 proprietary chemicals the industry will not even identify and we cannot possibly evaluate, all adding up to a low-level toxic waste site we want our students to play on.
Sweden has recently banned further crumb rubber pitches and the EPA no longer proclaims their safety.
New York City and Los Angeles school districts reject crumb rubber in artificial turf illustrating use of the precautionary principle which states: when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic, and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives including no action.
At this point I would respectfully request the School Board to at least:
- consider alternatives and exclude tire crumb from consideration in a turf field (I will not vote for this measure if tire crumb remains an option, but will support it if crumb rubber is excluded from consideration),
- fully involve the Sustainability Committee in their advisory capacity, and
- remove all industry-generated, sales-pitch propaganda from any OR web site.
Again, I fully support Warrant Article #3 if tire crumb is excluded from consideration.
Robert L Barth, MD