Study finds Rancho Santa Fe turf field is not a health hazard

The Rancho Santa Fe School District is confident in the safety of its artificial turf field after a recent study showed no significant exposure to lead or any measured contaminants.

“At this time, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe there is a health hazard,” said Stephen Wade, principal environmental scientist of Ninyo & Moore geotechnical and environmental sciences consultants.

In response to parents Amanda and Ali Shapouri raising concerns about the health risks of children’s exposure to the shredded recycled tire crumb in the turf field in May, the district contacted the San Diego County Office of Education about studying the issue further. The office of education requested Ninyo & Moore perform a review of two sets of previous sampling results in addition to conducting its own evaluation of contaminants associated with the synthetic turf.

At the RSF School District board’s May 12 meeting, RSF School District President Tyler Seltzer acknowledged that the issue is an emotional one and he said the board was prepared to again listen to the Shapouris’ concerns and hopefully they would not “storm out” as they did the month prior.

The Shapouris were requesting that the district replace the field with natural grass but if that was not possible, they would request the district replace the rubber crumb with cork or coconut husk, have children wash their hands after use of the field, and possibly add a smaller natural grass play field to accommodate children who don’t enjoy playing on the artificial turf.

“We need to do what we claim that we’re teaching our children to do, which is learn from your mistakes, move on and use facts. And the facts are there,” Amanda Shapouri said. “There’s no explanation on why we should just ignore all these facts and impose something on our children.”

Wade said there is naturally-occurring lead in soil and in the air and lead in turf fields is not a new issue; the question is whether it is at a level that is harmful.

“There are what you would call toxic chemicals everywhere you look. You’d be surprised at what’s floating around in the air, what’s in the soil, what’s on surfaces, there’s all kinds of things that are harmful to you everywhere,” Wade said.

Wade pointed out that “The dose makes the poison” — even too much water or oxygen can kill you — so just having a toxic chemical in the substrate does not mean that people are being exposed to that chemical.

Based on the sampling, the yellow pigmented fibers of the turf (from the field markings) contained the only transferable lead content—a very small, trace amount, according to Wade.

Wade said in their review of samples, they use the most restrictive standard that they can—the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s standards for lead in residential settings.

The results of the wipe sampling of the playing field found results of transferable lead below the laboratory reporting level — at 8.5 micrograms per square foot in the yellow section, they were five times less than the HUD standard of 40 micrograms per square foot, Wade said.

The results led Wade to recommend that no action is required at this time. He suggested as the five-year-old field gets older, it might be a good idea for the district to watch the field and consider re-sampling when it gets visually distressed.

RSF School District Superintendent Lindy Delaney and Vice President Todd Frank liked the idea of encouraging students to take precautions such as hand-washing and Frank suggested it become something that is included in the family packet issued to school families every year.

The Shapouris were not happy with the board’s response and said they felt as though they were being shut down.

“I can’t understand why we’re even talking about what is the level of toxicity and what is the level of exposure to our children. That is outrageous to me,” Ali Shapouri said. “I can assure you we’re not satisfied with this report. There’s exposure to our kids and (the district) is responsible to deal with it.”

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