When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.
In January 1998 some 32 scientists, philosophers, lawyers and environmental activists from the United States, Canada and Europe gathered for a three-day conference at the headquarters of the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, Wisconsin, in order to produce a common text that set forth the precautionary principle as a working theme for public health and environmental decision-making. The idea was to urge decision-makers to take anticipatory action in the absence of scientific certainty. The foregoing iteration of the precautionary principle was contained in the Wingspread Conference’s Statement issued on January 26, 1998.
One of the organizations that work toward the implementation of the precautionary principle in environmental and public health decision-making in the United States is the Science and Environmental Health Network (www.sehn.org), in Ames, Iowa.
In June 2003, the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco became the first government body in the United States to make the precautionary principle the basis for all its environmental policy.
[No. 2] And a little child will lead them - The Claire Dworsky Brief about artificial turf fields. SynTurf.org, Newton, mass. February 21, 2010. Were it not for the grownups in this saga – Jim Metzner of Kids Science Challenge (New York) and Adina Paytan of University of California at Santa Cruz’s Institute of Marine Sciences – we easily could have dubbed this story one out of the mouth of babes, after another biblical reference to the truth born out of innocence. We are talking about one Claire Dworsky, a nine-year old 4th grade student at Lycée Français la Perouse, in San Francisco. In December 2009, Miss Dworsky became the youngest ever to have presented her work at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
Presented by Dworsky, Paytan and Metzner, the presentation was entitled Runoff Water from Grass and Artificial Turf Soccer Fields: Which Is Better for the Soccer Player, the City and the Environment? According to AGU’s statement (January 15, 2010), Miss Dworsky’s presentation poster was part of the Bright Students Training as Research Scientists (Bright STaRS) session during the Fall Meeting. “Combining her enthusiasm for science with her passion for soccer, Claire researched runoff from soccer pitches of grass and synthetic turf to find out if high nutrient levels or heavy metals were in the runoff water. Dr. Adina Paytan, at University of California at Santa Cruz’s Institute of Marine Sciences, helped Claire with her project,” the statement read. . Seehttp://www.agu.org/news/archives/2010-01-15_ClaireDworksy_BrightSTaRS.shtml . The The Bright STaRS program encourages the next generations of earth and space scientists
For years the purveyors of artificial turf playing surfaces and their political allies in municipal government have been making claims that the water run off from artificial truf fields does not harm the environment, leachates being within permissible levels. The test result is often based on analysis of the runoff from very limited number of fields after it water has been filtered. The murky color of the runoff from her soccer field however was enough to stir Miss Dworsky’s curiosity. After a hundred or more samples she presented her finding to the scientific world.
The following are excerpts from her AGU poster presentation:
Approach - Runoff samples from five grass and five artificial turf fields in the city of San Francisco were collected throughout the year (110 samples) and analyzed for nutrient content and trace metal concentrations. Data was assimilated for cost-benefit analysis.
The effects of the grass and synthetic turf runoff on carrot growth and on Daphnia Magnus survival were conducted.
Discussion - If these pollutants move into the Bay or the ocean through storm drains or surface runoff, my study shows that they probably could harm plant and aquatic life. There are at least 100 chemicals and heavy metals that have been identified in crumb rubber. Apparently some of them did not agree with Daphnia, and could pose a threat to other aquatic life. The high nutrient inputs to the Bay or ocean may result in increase growth of algae, loss of water clarity, uptake of oxygen (as the algae decompose) and result in eutrophication and dead zones like those found in the Mississippi River Delta. Toxic algal blooms (red tides) occurrences may also increase.
Conclusions - When viewed all together, this study shows that we need to be very careful where we put soccer fields. They must not be close to water bodies like the bay and ocean to avoid the potential negative effects of pollutant in runoff from entering theses waters and impacting life. Grass fields should not be over fertilized and should be maintained in a sustainable (natural pest control) way. Runoff from soccer fields must be tested regularly, and players should be informed that they need to clean any part of their skin that comes in contact with artificial turf as soon as they get off the field.
According to the poster presentation, Miss Dworsky’s team found “Synthetic turf water samples had zinc levels of 1000s of ppb and copper levels typically above 20ppb. These samples always exceeded the Monterey Bay Basin Plan Water Quality Objective for copper (< 30 ppb) and zinc (< 200 ppb) and at times the EPA drinking water levels as well. Cadmium and cobalt were also higher in the artificial turf runoff than in grass runoff and levels exceed runoff targets in some samples but not all.”
[No. 1] Weston, Mass.: Charles River Watershed Association research paper: Apply the precautionary principle to installation of artificial turf fields. SynTurf.org, Newton, Mass. August 9, 2009. The Charles River watershed Association does not as yet have an officially-stated policy or stand on the installation of artificial turf fields. The issue might become of interest to the CRWA sooner than later. Because more artificial turf fields are being built around the Charles River Watershed, and an untold number of them draining into the Charles River or any of its very many tributaries. For example the drainage/discharge form the artificial turf fields that are being installed at Newton South High School, in Newton, Mass., connect to the South Meadow Brook that runs along the site of the fields in a culvert.
Recently, this summer, CRWA ordered up a research study of the existing literature on artificial turf fields. SynTurf.org has obtained a copy of the report. The report recommends:
Although there is no clear consensus among the literature, natural fields are likelier more benign from both an environmental and a human health perspective than artificial fields. Adherence to the Precautionary Principle is advisable in opting for natural fields.
If artificial turf is to be installed, the following steps are recommended to mitigate its negative impacts:
• A filtration system should be installed so that runoff may be treated, especially for zinc, before entering surface water.
• Storm drains should not be constructed on fields such that runoff events could carry crumb rubber toward water bodies. Measures such as curbing, installing grass buffers and minimizing surrounding impervious surfaces can be used to limit the risk of runoff finding its way to surface water or storm drains.
• Synthetic turf should be treated with disinfectant to prevent microbial infection. The disinfectant should be selected based on the degree to which it can get washed in surface water without harming the environment.