Community Action Works
Community Action Works

July 10, 2018

Dear Mayor Bowser,

We, the undersigned organizations and businesses, are writing to strongly urge that the District government stop installing synthetic turf and poured in place (PIP) playgrounds in Washington, D.C. There is a growing body of evidence that these synthetic surfaces endanger children’s health, are harmful to our environment, and are very expensive to install and maintain compared to natural grass.

  • In the District, children have been endangered by surface temperatures that have been measured in excess of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • For years, children in the District have been endangered by playing fields that are excessively hard, far out of compliance with any safety standards. Until last year, the District did not correctly monitor Gmax testing of field hardness (called impact attenuation) to ensure even a minimum safety standard to prevent injuries when children fall. A score of 165 or higher is considered too dangerous for children by the Synthetic Turf Council. Dozens of DCPS playing fields exceeding that 165 score remain in service with no remediation at all.

When products with known risks of injuries from infection, high temperature and hardness are installed, the District has an obligation to provide monitoring and safety standards. That hasn’t been done in a timely manner, 12 and students have been harmed.

We oppose the District’s plans to install more synthetic turf of any type on playing fields or playgrounds. These plastic carpet systems and infills are exposing our children and environment to harmful toxicants, as documented by independent researchers at Yale, 1 Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center, and the National Center for Health Research.

Synthetic rubber playground materials (often called PIP) that are used under slides, swings, and other children’s play areas contain similarly harmful toxicants.

  • Claims from vendors or industry-funded scientists that the materials are proven safe are inaccurate. Misleading claims that there is “no evidence” of harm does not mean that the synthetic systems are proven to be safe. On the contrary, concerns about safety have been documented by independent scientists noted above, and were examined during the Obama Administration by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The CPSC and EPA reviews were not completed as expected in 2016 or 2017, and it is not clear whether those reviews are held to the scientific standards that had previously been established.
  • In addition to the health risks to school children and athletes, approximately three tons of infill materials migrate off of each synthetic turf field into the greater environment each year. About 2-5 metric tons of infill, such as tire crumb, must be replaced every year for each field, meaning that tons of the infill have migrated off the field into grass, water, and our homes, and the fields also continuously shed microplastics as the plastic blades break down. These materials may contain additives such as PAHs, flame retardants, UV inhibitors, etc., which can be toxic to marine and aquatic life; and microplastics are known to migrate into the oceans, food chain, and drinking water and can adsorb and concentrate other toxins from the environment.
  • Synthetic surfaces also create heat islands. In contrast, organically managed natural grass saves energy in urban areas by dissipating heat, cooling the air, and reducing energy to cool nearby buildings. Natural grass and soil protect groundwater quality, biodegrade polluting chemicals and bacteria, reduce surface water runoff, and abate noise and reduce glare.

We urge your support for the installation of organically managed natural grass fields and Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) playgrounds that are properly engineered, installed, and maintained for ADA compliance. It is incumbent upon the District of Columbia to:

  1. Halt all installation of synthetic playgrounds and playing fields.
  2. Remove synthetic playgrounds and playing fields instead of renovating them or replacing with
    new synthetic materials.
  3. Prioritize proper installation and maintenance of ADA compliant natural surfaces.
  4. Solicit public ideas for increasing the inventory of playing fields and recreation opportunities.

We endorse the January 2018 policy recommendations made by DC Safe Healthy Playing Fields, which provide a measured and reasonable approach to phasing out of synthetic fields and playgrounds in DC and replacement with natural surfaces.

As noted above, there is well-documented evidence on the environmental and health dangers of synthetic fields and playground surfaces. The scientists and consultants denying these risks to the DC Government have financial and other ties to the companies that manufacture and install synthetic turf or to the recycled rubber industry.

Tax dollars should not be spent on products that endanger children’s health and harm our environment.

DC Safe Healthy Playing Fields
Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments
American Academy of Environmental Medicine
Audubon Naturalist Society
Beyond Pesticides (October 2017 Testimony to DC City Council)
Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church Environmental Justice Ministry
Center for Environmental Health
Children’s Environmental Health Network (October 2017 Testimony to DC City Council)
Kids in Danger
MOM’s Organic Market
Maryland Public Interest Research Group
Maryland Environmental Health Network
Moms Clean Air Force
National Center for Health Research
Neighbors of the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River
New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance
Non Toxic Communities
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Statement on EPA Study)
Safe Grow Montgomery
Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition
Sierra Club DC
Trash Free Maryland
Community Action Works Campaigns
Women’s Alliance for Democracy & Justice

City Administrator Rashad Young
Department of Energy & the Environment Director Tommy Wells
Deputy Mayor of Education Ahnna Smith
Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services HyeSook Chung
Department of Parks and Recreation Director Keith Anderson
Department of General Services Director Greer Gillis
DCPS Chancellor Amanda Alexander
Interagency Synthetic Turf Task Force
Evan Lambert, Fox5
Mike Ozanian, Forbes
Rachel Sadon, DCist

July 10 Letter to Mayor Bowser

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