Rancho Santa Fe parents question health impacts of artificial turf


Some R. Roger Rowe parents expressed concern about the safety of the school’s artificial turf at the April 14 Rancho Santa Fe School board meeting. Parents Amanda and Ali Shapouri, parents of three children in the school, said there is a potential for “irreversible health impacts” from the toxins in the crumb rubber from recycled tires used in the field.

“No one wants to live next to a pile of used tires, no one wants these tires dumped in the ocean or in any natural habitats, no one thinks it would be a good idea to transform these used tires into chew toys for animals,” wrote Amanda Shapouri in a letter to the board. “Yet it was decided that it would be okay to shred it up and allow our kids to play in it.”

Being aware that the school budget may not permit a comprehensive test of the materials in the turf, the Shapouris took the initiative to take a sample of the crumb rubber and have it tested by Geocon Inc, a local geotechnical and environmental firm.

“Although the test found that the toxins present do not exceed the acceptable level established by governmental agencies, we can all agree any level of toxic materials around our children and staff is a major concern and should not be allowed in our school,” Amanda said.

The test found “not detected” toxins of cobalt, nickel, zinc, copper, barium, mercury and lead. Amanda said that the “not detected” result doesn’t mean that the toxins are non-existent, but it means that the machines aren’t calibrated to detect a specific amount under current standards and thresholds.

Since they have asked the school not to have their children play on the field, Ali said they have noticed some of their children’s unexplained health conditions have improved or disappeared.

“We understand why (the artificial turf field) was done, we understand that it was a water reduction strategy… but sometimes environmental decisions have unpredictable consequences,” Ali said.

Ali said as a potential solution they have discussed the issue with community members who have access to long-term ground water resources and one property owner has offered a perpetual supply of ground water to support a natural grass play field at the school.

“A natural field with organic fertilizers and limited use of pesticides would be a much healthier alternative with less toxin exposure and health risks to our children and hard-working coaches,” Amanda said.

Superintendent Lindy Delaney said that the district did conduct its own test but like the Shapouris’ results, they also did not find any detectable amounts of toxins. Delaney said the district plans to meet with the San Diego County Office of Education’s facilities department on April 20 and she hopes to come back on May 12 with a recommendation to the board on how to proceed in terms of the field.

“There isn’t anything at a level that’s high enough to trigger a change at this point but we’re going to take time to look at it deeper and further,” Delaney said.

Delaney said that they do maintain the field well, it is watered often to keep dust at a minimum, all precautions are taken and the field is often monitored.

“There’s a significant amount of push back, I’m not saying it’s valid or invalid, against the idea they’re unsafe,” RSF School District Board President Tyler Seltzer said of turf fields. “The safety of the kids, we care more about that than anything. But I would hope we don’t do anything rash…I would like to gather more information and become more educated about it.”

More information will be available when the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment completes its three year study on potential health effects associated with the use of recycled tires in synthetic turf—the results will be released in June 2018.

Seltzer said the he is interested to see how all local schools evaluate and handle this issue — schools such as Torrey Pines High, Canyon Crest Academy, La Jolla Country Day, Santa Fe Christian and Bishop’s have all installed artificial turf fields.

The Shapouris expressed frustration that they were not allowed more time to speak. Although the item was placed on the agenda by written request, community members are only allowed three minutes for their presentation.

The board members gave them more than the allotted three minutes to get their concerns about the dangers of the turf on record, but elected to move on in their agenda as they would not reach any answers for the Shapouris that night.

“Everybody up here is as concerned as you about keeping children safe,” said RSF School Board Vice President Todd Frank. “We are agreeing to further study. My children are out there too, we are not any less concerned than you.”

Frank said the board always takes an approach of being open to new information and he said they would like to have the chance to respond to the parents’ concerns in a professional way.