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New Haven Register (Connecticut)
NORTH HAVEN >> The controversy concerning crumb rubber synthetic turf athletic fields dominated town meetings after the Middle School Building Committee approved the construction of two of them at the new North Haven Middle School.
The school opened last fall, but the construction project continues with the finishing touches, including the two fields.
The first phase of the project, including the classrooms, was done last fall in time for the first day of school, according to Building Committee chairman Gary Johns. The first part of the second phase, including the administrative and guidance offices, music classrooms and the auditorium, was finished last month, and the second part of the second phase, including the cafeteria, kitchen, nurses office and fitness area will be done shortly.
That leaves the athletic fields.
When the project went to referendum, it included synthetic crumb rubber fields. That proposal passed, but since then, there has been a growing movement in the state by those who believe the crumb rubber fields could cause cancer in the children playing on them.
The state legislature's Planning and Development Committee recently approved a bill that would prohibit installation of crumb rubber ground cover on municipal and public playgrounds. That bill does not cover athletic fields.
While some have questioned the wisdom of installing a material that still prompts medical concerns, the town is going forward with the plans and have settled on constructing two fields made with crumb rubber, Johns said. They are expected to be completed in November, he said.
Initially, the plans called for three fields, town attorney Jeffrey Donofrio told the Board of Selectmen Thursday.
"When you do a project like this, you get budget updates at various junctures of the project, and in this case, we got a budget estimate at the end of each phase of design," he said. "The budget updates indicated that there would not be sufficient money for three athletic fields so my advice at the time based on a couple of factors was to defer the decision on the athletic fields until a good portion of the renovation was complete. I was asked questions about the fields, and my answer has always been the same -- when we know more about what we are going to have left in contingency, we'll be able to make a decision about what we are going to be able to afford."
That is the point where they are now, Donofrio said, and the decision was made to construct the two fields with lighting at a cost not to exceed $2.2 million. The material to be used is "cool fill," he said, a water-based encapsulating system that cools the field better than regular crumb rubber. One concern with synthetic fields is the temperature of the material on hot days when the rubber heats up.
"The fact that it's encapsulated gave the committee some level of comfort," he said.
But he hasn't been able to find any studies done on the safety of the material, he said, adding that safety concerns have only come up in Connecticut and in California.
"Environment and Human Health, Inc, (EHHI) is distressed to learn that the building committee of the North Haven middle school has approved a synthetic turf field with "cool fill". said Nancy Alderman, president of EHHI.
"Cool Fill" has never been independently tested, just as the crumb rubber had never been independently tested before it was put on the market as synthetic turf infill. The decision to make the athletic field a synthetic turf field is expensive at a time when resources are scarce. As well, the federal government is in the process of conducting a year-long study of synthetic turf fields infilled with crumb rubber and other infills to look at their health effects. North Haven, at the very least, should have waited until that study was completed. Environment and Human Health, Inc continues to say that there is not safer surface for students to play on than natural grass."
Ridge Road resident Hugh Davis said "I think that encasing this crumb rubber is better than not doing so, but it's still untested."
"We still don't know what this means," he said. "I think we need to err on the side of the health and safety of the children who are playing on those fields, and not worry so much about the financial aspects. Those are important but it's the health and safety that should be the highest priority."
North Haven resident Mary White also thinks "this is something we should take a moment to think about and talk about."
Davis said natural grass fields should be seriously considered, but First Selectman Michael Freda said it's too late for that.
"The Board of Education and the School Building Committee unanimously on both sides voted for this," he said, and the Board of Selectmen has no power to override that vote.
"There's been a lot of conversation (about) what is the right product. I'm concerned about it," said Second Selectman Tim Doheny said. "The town is desperate for these fields and my son, who is in middle school right now, he'll be playing on those fields. It will certainly affect my family."
He's still not sure about the safety issues surrounding the material, Doheny said. "I'm a strong proponent of the fields. I'm not saying we should sacrifice our kid's health," he said. "There's been a lot of back and forth and I haven't been 100 percent convinced."
The federal government is doing a study now on possibly dangers of crumb rubber, Third Selectman Sally Buemi said. "My initial reaction at the referendum was that folks voted in favor of project as presented, including synthetic fields, so I felt tied to following that," she said. "But if new information comes in, reasonable people do pause and have concern, and I think that's what's happening."The controversy concerning crumb rubber synthetic turf athletic fields dominated town meetings after the Middle School Building Committee approved the construction of two of them at the new North Haven Middle School.
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