What’s in that Turf? School Board Green Lights Tests to Find Out

After concerns were raised about the safety of artificial turf playing fields, the Loudoun County School Board voted Tuesday to go ahead with testing the fields’ infill for dangerous toxins.

The push to test school fields that have been outfitted with synthetic turf came from the county Board of Supervisors. They asked the School Board for permission to test three of the fields—one from each of the manufacturers—and said the county would cover the $27,900 bill.

In its vote, the School Board agreed to allow the tests, provided that the tests are also conducted on three natural turf playing fields.

“We adjusted the language on this to recognize the fact that natural grass and natural soil also have chemicals in them,” board member Jeff Morse (Dulles) said, adding that seeing what’s in natural turf will provide a base line “and help us determine relative levels of toxins.”

Several School Board members stressed that greenlighting the tests does not mean they are ready to rip out artificial turf at the 11 high schools that have it, or even go with another material for future fields.

“I do not plan on having knee jerk reactions to this information. … I want to make it clear, if I see one carcinogen, it’s not like I’m out the door with the fields,” Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said. “This is a starting point; this is by no means an ending point for me.”

Concerns have been raised nationwide that exposure to artificial turf fields’ crumb rubber infill may cause cancer.

Loudoun County Health Department Director Dr. David Goodfriend recently reported to the School Board and Board of Supervisors that he could not find a correlation between use of the rubber pellets—made from recycled tires—and cancer in athletes who play on the fields.

“The number one issue is if it puts kids in harm’s way then we’re not going to do this. The challenge is to prove something is safe and not causing a problem,” he told county and school leaders during a March 18 meeting. “I can’t prove the negative at this point that crumb rubber cannot increase the risk of cancer.”