A county report on infills for artificial turf fields found that even accounting for their longer usability, alternatives to crumb rubber are still more expensive.
Concerns about crumb rubber infill were first raised by University of Washington soccer coach Amy Griffin, who went to local and then national media with concerns that her soccer players were getting cancer.
The ensuing worry among parents about potential health risks of using crumb rubber, which is made in part of recycled rubber from car tires, launched a study from the Washington State Department of Health. That study, released in January, found no evidence of higher cancer rates among athletes who play on crumb rubber fields.
“At least for me, it puts us back to where we were before Coach Griffin went out and talked to the media about her concerns,” said Loudoun health department director Dr. David Goodfriend. “We have a material that has potentially cancer-causing components, but there’s no evidence that it actually causes any cancer in people.”
Still, supervisors wanted to look at alternative materials.
County administration and Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Service staff found that substituting thermoplastic elastomeric infill, or TPE—the next-cheapest alternative to the mixture of crumb rubber and sand that the schools currently use—would cost $200,000 to $325,000 more per field.
County staff assumed the material would need to be replaced every 12 years, similarly to crumb rubber. TPE fields cost more to install, and TPE suppliers say their material is reusable and recyclable, but even assuming the infill could be reused, staff found the upfront costs still made TPE fields more expensive. Since TPE is a relatively new product, staff could not independently evaluate manufacturers’ claims.
Supervisors voted 5-3-1 to pursue “lowest responsible and responsive” bids, the normal course of action when evaluating bids for county contracts—but one that, in this case, effectively means building crumb rubber fields. Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and Supervisors Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) and Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) voted against, wishing to leave the door open to building at least one TPE field in the county to evaluate.
Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) suggested the county explore building one non-crumb rubber field at Hal and Berni Hanson Park.
“If it’s a huge price difference, we have to have that discussion too, but my intent is, not hold up any of the school fields, and so by putting it into an upcoming county field, it gives us some time to take a look at it, develop some specs,” Buona said.
Hal and Berni Hanson Regional Park is scheduled for construction next fiscal year.
That motion passed 8-0-1, Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) absent.