Westport News (Westport, Conn.), August 31, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: Susan Addiss, past commissioner of the state Health Department, advised the use of the "precautionary principle," which she associates with good public health practice in the face of reasonable questions about the safety of a product. "Hold off until you know more."]

By Frank Luongo

Hartford -- Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is calling for the funding of further testing by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) of the rubber in-fill material that is used in the installation of synthetic-turf playing fields.

Speaking in Hartford Wednesday at a press conference held by Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI) in the Legislative Office Building, Blumenthal said that the amount needed by CAES, which is estimated to be $200,000, would be found in the state's current environmental protection and health budgets.

David Brown, a Westport resident and EHHI's director of toxicology, presented the findings of a preliminary study of the rubber granules by CAES that provided the basis for Blumenthal's commitment to more testing. Brown is the past chief of environmental epidemiology and occupational health at the Connecticut State Department of Health.

Attending the press conference were Westport parents Tanya Murphy, Stacy Prince and Patricia Taylor, who have been active in an effort to bring about a review of the town's commitment to synthetic fields, which now number two in place and two scheduled to be completed in mid-September.

As reported in these pages, CAES has found that under "relatively mild conditions," the chemicals in the rubber granules, some of which are widely recognized as toxic, migrate into the air as vapor and particulates and leach out in contact with water. Brown's report said that the CAES preliminary study identified four chemicals that were released from the granules, which together are reported to have the potential for causing skin and eye irritation, for being corrosive and destructive to mucous membranes, and for having a toxic impact on endocrinal, gastrointestinal, immunological and neurological systems.

The four chemicals are benzothiazole, butylated hydroxyanisole, n- hexadecane and 4-(t-octyl) phenol.

The CAES study emphasizes the need for testing the air at various levels above the fields over several seasons for studying out-gassing and particulate-migrating of the chemical compounds known to be in the rubber.

"This can be dangerous and it calls for more study," but not for "panic or dire apprehension," Blumenthal said with reference to communities that already have the synthetic fields with rubber in- fill.

He advised parents in those communities to be aware of the potential hazards on the fields and to "manage the risk" by "addressing symptoms" and "reducing exposure on hot days."

Blumenthal said that synthetic fields have a number of advantages over natural grass fields, especially for the avoiding of certain injuries, and he speculated that "better substances" might be found to replace rubber as in-fill material.

"This should be in the mix," said Blumenthal about decisions that communities make about whether to stay with natural fields or adopt a synthetic option.

EHHI President Nancy Alderman, whose group commissioned the preliminary CAES study and has proposed a moratorium on new synthetic fields, said that the plan for further study does not include a look at alternative in-fill materials.

Alderman said that proposed alternatives should be studied as fully as the rubber granules before being used on the fields, which, she said, would require more funding.

In support of the moratorium, Susan Addiss, past commissioner of the state Health Department and EHHI director of health education, suggested a way for "thoughtful communities" to approach the turf issue.

She advised the use of the "precautionary principle," which she associates with good public health practice in the face of reasonable questions about the safety of a product. "Hold off until you know more."

Near the end of the press conference, Brown said that communities should be having an informed discussion about toxicity and should have access to as much information as possible from state agencies that have done their own studies of the issues presented by synthetic playing fields.

"But the discussion shouldn't be toxic. Information is needed. It should be a conversation," Brown said.

Copyright 2006 MediaNews Group, Inc.