Thursday, February 12, 2015

Crumb Ultimatum

Dr. Bob Barth addresses the school board
In a public comment at last night's school board meeting (video), Dr. Bob Barth advocated for an alternative fill for the artificial turf field.  Typically artificial turf fields are filled with crumb rubber made out of ground tires, which makes the playing surface spongy, reducing injuries. As tires are known to contain many carcinogens, as well as many unknown proprietary ingredients, Dr. Barth said he could support the field only if "crumb rubber was off the table."   The district votes on Election Day, Tuesday March 10th, with Article 3 needing a 60% YES supermajority for the $2M field project to go forward.

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 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:
  1. 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),
  2. fully involve the Sustainability Committee in their advisory capacity, and
  3. remove all industry-generated, sales-pitch propaganda from any OR web site.
I would hope the Board would feel a responsibility to present a balance of information to the public, not simply a sales-pitch.
Again, I fully support Warrant Article #3 if tire crumb is excluded from consideration.
Robert L Barth, MD

Addition -- Dr. Barth spoke at the March 4, 2015 school board meeting:


Of course I’m here to speak to Warrant Article 3 and the use of tire crumb.

First, I’d like to establish that although I consider myself an environmentalist I can make no claim to being a tree-hugger. Back in the 1970s I was the prime mover in establishing a skating rink at Jackson Landing. I researched design and several alternative sites. We cut down a lot of trees with no certainty of success, but we weren’t gambling with children’s lives. Maria and I and Charley Burnham built the first boards in our driveway out of the cut and milled trees. For 3 winters without refrigeration I made ice every night past midnight pulling by hand our converted boat trailer with a 55 gallon drum of hot water. Amazingly it all worked and we had a lot of ice time. I paid my dues and I gather it worked out pretty well in the long run.

A month ago I gave you the figures of 38 soccer players with cancers, mostly lymphomas, 34 of whom were goal tenders. Last week the figures were 52 with cancer; 48, all but 6, are goalies. All players with crumb rubber turf. But then, yesterday the San Francisco Chronicle gave figures of 126 soccer players with blood element malignancies 86 of whom are goalies. Not a scientific study, but the numbers and ratios are astounding and the exact opposite of what one would expect if all players were subject to the same exposure to carcinogens. The ratios would be explained by the obvious fact that goalies by the nature of there position are exposed to a much higher intake of the 20 or so known carcinogens in tire crumb. Anyone with common sense would have to be deeply concerned by these figures. Not necessarily accept them until they can be proven or disproven by a subsequent valid epidemiological study, but deeply concerned. Non- Hodgkins lymphoma is not a common disease. It is most prevalent in the elderly and least common in the 20-30 year age group. I spoke with a recently retired Dover pediatrician who told me he had seen 1 or 2, at the most 3 cases in 35 years of a busy practice. Causally it is associated with several of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in tire crumb. Many schools across the country are deferring artificial fields over safety concerns at this time. Has the School or Board made any effort to inform the voting public of these concerns?

To again quote the one review article given us by Dr. Kevin Gardner supposedly proving the safety of tire crumb: “ 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.” Hey, that’s his best shot, not mine. With all due respect to Kevin Gardner he doesn’t know any more or less about the safety, or dangers  of crumb rubber than you or I or the man in the moon, because none of the studies to date are definitive one way or the other. The EPA, which desperately wanted a solution to the used tire problem and loves crumb rubber fields, no longer promotes nor proclaims the safety of tire crumb. It now admits its own studies were inadequate, lists a bunch of chemicals of concern which require more study, but that they are not going to do more, and it’s up to the states to regulate. In other words they’ve  totally backed out of there responsibilities.

Here is the scenario as I see it. You are between a rock and a hard place. If the warrant article passes it will be damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead with tire crumb because we can’t afford the more expensive safe alternatives as TPE. Probably in the next year or so the goalie/cancer issue will be resolved with a well-designed epidemiological  study. If it shows these preliminary figures to be bogus with no causal effect demonstrated, we can all breath a sigh of relief. If, however, the implied conclusions are substantiated, and the odds are not unreasonable that they will be, it will be the nail in the coffin for tire crumb, and then we all have a big problem. You will have blown a million dollars on a toxic waste site, you will then have to excavate and dispose of leaving us with a 2 million dollar hole in the ground we may not be able to fill. We would then be all the more liable, because we were all fully aware of the potential risk before the fact, but put it in anyway. There are already law firms trolling the waters specifically for tire crumb victims, real or imagined.

Knowing your only option may be to put tire crumb in if 3 passes I will vote against it.  If it is removed as an option I will vote for it and send letters soliciting support for 3 (not that many will read them one way or the other, but it could be a close vote).

Recent action by the Madbury Fire Department is pertinent to the discussion. When they decided to evacuate Moharimet they didn’t think a roof collapse was imminent, but thought closing to be prudent for the safety of students and staff. They should be commended.


Robert L Barth MD   

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Budget Unchanged at Deliberative Session

The board-approved warrant was left unamended in tonight's relatively interesting deliberative session (video).  Around 100 voters showed up, slightly less than in recent years.  Board members took turns presenting an award and the individual warrant articles.  The community gets to vote on the warrant articles on Election Day, March 10th.

Paul Gasowski was given the district's 2014-2015 Distinguished Service Award.  Among other things, Paul was honored for: his initial vision of a sustainable school district while he was an ORHS teacher, creating and chairing the Sustainability committee, connecting food service with local farmers, creating the ORHS video production department, leading the adoption of local cable TV for school board and student works and his service on Lee's Agricultural and Library committees.  Congratulations, Paul.  (Paul has appeared on this blog before.)

Board Member Rotner presents the ORHS field warrant article
That's new board candidate Dan Klein's ear in the foreground
As expected, the $2M artificial turf field renovation for the high school provoked the most controversy.  The proponents of the artificial turf were well prepared, with board member Kenny Rotner presenting the article.  Kenny donned his medical doctor hat, reviewing the research and preemptively enumerating and dismissing health concerns.

Dr. Bob Barth made a public comment worrying that "carbon black nanoparticles" that constituted over 30% of tire crumbs might have effects similar to asbestos.  UNH Professor Dr. Glen Miller, known to readers of this blog as a primary football proponent, also happens to have spent 10 years doing research into carbon nanotechnology.  He was able to definitively tell Dr. Barth that there's nothing nano about carbon black, and that your lungs would actually be quite good at expelling carbon nanotubes if you inhaled any, which you won't because they're expensive and never used as rubber filler in tires. 

Undeterred, Ann Wright proposed the only amendment of the night.  She proposed reducing the field appropriation and bond by $550,000 with the intent that a grass turf field replace the artificial turf field.  It looked bleak when it took a while to find a second for the amendment motion.

UNH Professor Dr. Kevin Gardner, expert in sustainability science and environmental contamination, spoke next.  Dr. Gardner reported on a Life Cycle Analysis comparing artificial turf and grass fields, taking into account all the steps including manufacturing, transportation, maintenance and disposal.   He said that artificial and natural fields of the same size have about the same environmental impact (and no human health impact).  Given that an artificial turf field can be played on non-stop, the fair comparison is to three or four natural fields, so environmentally the artificial turf is superior. 

People have been asking if I've read Dr. Gardner's memo about the field, which I have not seen.  [Wednesday: Here it is as an email from the mysterious Citizens Exchange, along with letters from Kim Clark and Board Member Rotner - thanks Sara.  Dr. Rotner's letter echoes his presentation of the issue at DS, and is really his own opinion rather than an official consensus of the board.]

If it'd been me, I'd be reeling under this onslaught of expert opinion.  But Ann held up like a champ.  John Parsons mercifully called the question, ending discussion. The amendment then failed nearly unanimously.

One gripe with artificial turf that wasn't really disputed by the proponents is that it tends to get really hot on hot days, and heat-related illnesses are a reality.

I find the Deliberative Session has brightened my feelings about the prospects of the field warrant article, which needs a 60% supermajority to pass.   It certainly seemed to have a lot of support in the auditorium tonight.  Principal Allen says there's a committee planning a VOTE YES ON 3 campaign.

The rest of the deliberative session went smoothly.  I said I was going to vote NO on the benefits stabilization fund in March, but didn't try to amend it.  New school board candidate (and likely member-to-be given that he's running unopposed) Dan Klein introduced himself and invited any questions to be sent to

Coming up on the calendar is Candidates Night Tuesday February 17 and Election Day Tuesday March 10, not to mention board meetings 2/11 and 3/4.   See you at all of these.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Turf Field At Issue At Deliberative Session Tuesday February 3, 2015

[Added Tuesday]  Foster's ran an article on our DS.

Tomorrow, Tuesday 2/3/15, is the ORCSD Deliberative Session. It's a real election.  As usual, it's 7pm in the ORHS auditorium. A majority of voters at the Deliberative Session can amend the existing warrant articles (also known as the ballot questions).  You must be eligible to vote in one of the three towns to be given a voting card at the DS.  For the first time last year, like most elections in New Hampshire there was same-day registration at the DS.  So if you can legally vote in any of the three towns (i.e. you're a US citizen at least 18 who lives in the district) you can show up at the DS, register if needed, and vote.  It's best to bring ID (and proof of address like a utility bill if you need to register), but you don't have to.

The law restricts the possible amendments. Typically an amendment will change the amount of money to be raised and appropriated by an article.  A person proposing to amend an amount can state how they intend any additional money to be spent, but even if the amendment passes the board is not bound by the intention.  It is not permissible to amend wording required by law or to change a warrant article from its original purpose. (Though I'm pretty sure zeroing out the funding is permissible, which presumably changes the purpose.) The default budget (the budget we likely get if the main budget article fails to pass) cannot be amended.

The Deliberative Session is an incredible part of New Hampshire democracy where a single voter who shows up wields enormous influence.  Usually around 120 voters show up, so it takes around 60 votes to modify the budget.  So please come by the DS -- your vote really counts.

After the DS the articles still have to be approved by the voters on election day Tuesday, March 10, 2015 to take effect. Typically 1500 to 3000 people vote in our March election.

I believe it only takes 25 signatures for citizens to get a warrant article onto the ballot. For the current year, the deadline to get those petitions in has already passed.

Here is the full warrant to be voted on.  It's from the agenda of the 1/21/15 board meeting and doesn't reflect a couple of minor changes made at that meeting.

Articles 1 and 2 elect the moderator and school board members.  Since only one person filed to run in each town race, the school board election is essentially over.  These articles cannot be modified at the deliberative session.
Article 3 is shaping up to be the most controversial question in this election.  It asks the voters to approve a $1.7M bond and to spend $2M revamping the athletic fields at the high school.   $0.3M has already been fundraised -- the board struck "privately" from the explanation as the funds are a mixture of privately raised funds (around $250K) and funds voted by past boards ($50K).  The plan is to fundraise another $300K for extras like dugouts and lighting.  $300K also seems to be the amount of interest paid over the life of the bond.  The field bond raises the budget an average of 0.5% annually for 10 years.  It's structured so the payment in the initial year is low, the maximum payment is in the second or third year and then the payments taper off.    Passage requires a 60% supermajority of YES voters.  
Here's the plan:

Almost no one has spoken out against the field at school board meetings.  This is apparently going to change at the Deliberative Session.  Most of the resistance in the community to the project comes from the artificial turf field within the track.  The main worry appears that the turf field is made spongy by adding crumbs of ground-up tires.  The claim is that turf fields get much hotter than the air on hot days and the tires give off toxins.  Former board member Ann Wright seems to be leading the resistance to the turf field.  She has been calling attention to this report of goalies getting cancer.  Principal Todd Allen, the main proponent of the field, cites EPA reports stating the fields are safe.

[Added Tuesday]  Ann Wright sent me an email after I wrote the above reminding me her objections were broader than just the tire crumbs.  I'm sorry about the misstatement, Ann.  She reminded me of the letter she sent around detailing her concerns.   She says at DS she plans to attempt to amend Article 3 by reducing the amount to $1,150,000, which she says is the amount needed for a natural turf (grass) field.  I am not sure if the amount she is referring to is the $2M appropriation or the $1.7M bond.  

[Added Tuesday]  I just did a quick search of my own and found that an alternative to tire crumb fill exists -- it's made out of ground Nike sneakers and in this case cost an additional $20,000 (HuffPo, USA Today).  As far as I can tell there are no studies examining the safety of this alternative fill, but the claim is that sneakers have already been extensively tested for harmful chemicals.

I haven't decided how I'll vote yet, at the DS or in March. Similar warrant articles have failed three times before (in 2006, 2007 and 2008 I believe).   Given the 60% hurdle, any significant resistance in the community will likely result in another failure of the field warrant to pass.

Here are some recent election results (percent YES).  2012:  Sustainability 64%,  Main Budget 56% 2013: Sustainability 60%, Reserve Fund 67%, Main Budget 62% 2014: Moh CafĂ© 71%, Barrington tuitioning: 84%, Main Budget 66%.  From these I think 60% sure seems possible.

Articles 4 and 5 ask the voters to approve the bus driver and paraprofessional contracts.  Three years ago both these groups accepted near-zero raises.  Those successful negotiations (from the taxpayers' perspective) led to some management problems: hiring bus drivers is difficult because our starting salary is so low compared to nearby districts, and new paras are being hired at larger salaries than experienced ones already working for us.  The current contracts correct these problems and I support them.  Voters at the deliberative session are not allowed to modify negotiated contracts.
Article 6 asks the voters to approve a benefit stabilization fund and fund it with $200,000.  This is somewhat similar to the reserve fund that the voters approved two years ago.  The idea this time is the board will collect extra tax from you in regular years, and use it to smooth out future tax hikes caused by benefit increases in the future.  For example, a few years ago the state shifted around $600,000 of retirement contributions to the district, an increase to the budget of around 1.5% annually.  If this fund existed then and had $300,000 in it, the board could have used the money so the increase was only 0.75% the first year, with the full 1.5% impact hitting the second and subsequent years.  Similarly, the state just shifted another $250,000 of annual retirement contributions to the district this cycle.
I don't know if anyone is planning on modifying this article at DS.  I'm currently inclined to vote NO on the article in March.  I'm starting not to like these various pots of money the district collects.  They each have particular covenants that restrict how and when they can be funded and spent.  Their overarching idea is to tax people now so they can be taxed less later.  I'd rather hang on to my money, thank you very much, and pay out the taxes when they're needed.  (The district has a practice of using the health insurance line as a stealth reserve fund, which is questionable if intentional, but does have the advantage of not having the restrictions that generally come with these other funds.)
Article 7 is the complete budget.  The district somewhat relaxed their tough inflation cap they've kept on the operating budget the last four or five years.  This year the cap is 3% compared to a 1.8% inflation rate, the difference being just about the amount of found money spent on the Moharimet Cafeteria.   (I've written more about recent budgets here.)
I'm going to support the board on the budget, meaning I'm going to vote YES on March 10, and likely NO to any changes proposed at the DS.  I have not heard of anyone planning to propose amendments.
Note that a NO victory on March 10 activates the default budget as a replacement for the operating budget (fund 10).  This cuts about $600,000 (1.5%) out of the budget.  It's always a bit confusing -- the warrant article wording, prescribed by law, makes it seem like the default budget replaces the total budget, but it doesn't.
That's it for now.  I hope to see everyone at the Deliberative Session tomorrow.