School Board Revives Turf Study Debate

Whether to test the county’s crumb rubber playing fields—an issue that’s become a political hot potato in recent months—returned to the Loudoun County School Board’s dais tonight.

School Board member Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) floated the idea of reimbursing the county to test natural grass fields if county supervisors decide to move forward with their former plans to test artificial turf fields for any harmful materials.

Concerns have been raised that exposure to the crumb rubber infill, made of used tires, could cause young athletes cancer, but no studies have been conclusive on the matter. Most of the county’s high schools are outfitted with crumb rubber fields.

The concerns prompted the county Board of Supervisors earlier this year to offer to pay for three of the schools’ artificial fields to be tested for any harmful chemicals. The School Board had accepted the offer, but stipulated the county must also test three natural grass fields, more than doubling the study’s  price tag from $27,900 to $68,000.

Supervisors felt that the School Board’s condition was meant to be a “poison pill” and to discourage any testing.

“For them to do this, they’re playing games, and they’re playing games with maybe the safety of all our students,” Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said at a Sept. 6 meeting.

But Turgeon argued that that was not her or her colleagues’ intentions at all. At tonight’s meeting, she said the request was meant to provide a baseline to compare the chemical level in each of the playing surfaces. “The request was very much misunderstood,” she said.

Turgeon did not request any action from the School Board, but asked whether her colleagues would support reimbursing the county for tests on at least one natural grass field.

Debbie Rose (Algonkian) said it’d be smarter to wait for the results of tests already being conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. Beth Huck (At Large) added that those are expected to wrap up by the end of the year.

Jeff Morse (Dulles) said he believes the School Board already made its will known, when, in August, it voted in support of testing three artificial and three grass fields.

“We already told them we wanted that information, so I don’t see going back and revisiting this again to say pretty please—I think we were pretty clear with our vote,” he said. “It is up to them to either say we support it or we don’t.”

Turgeon asked that the board and senior staff members continue to monitor this issue and the results of any studies.

“I’m very concerned because these are children we’re talking about. I don’t want to spend money unnecessarily, but I do want our students to be safe,” she added. “We need to be vigilant on this.”

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