Thursday, March 31, 2011

Five Years Later Bronx Residents Still Waiting For Ball fields

baseball fieldsWith a day to go before opening day at Yankee Stadium, baseball fields between 157th and 161st Streets were still under construction, almost five years after the community's fields began to be seized to build the new stadium. (Photo: Caleb Ferguson for The New York Times)

On Thursday, the New York Yankees began their regular season at Yankee Stadium, a gleaming $1.5 billion behemoth that opened in the Bronx in 2009 as the new home of one of the richest franchises in sports.

But next to the stadium is a lingering eyesore – a protracted construction project that was supposed to have been transformed into three public ball fields months ahead of opening day. Instead, some coaches and neighborhood residents say, it remains a joyless Mudville, according to the New York Times.

Just as the new stadium was enveloped in controversy, from its financing to its ticket prices, the construction of the three fields has also prompted debate.

The city promised to build the fields, which are starting to take shape directly across 161st Street to the south of the stadium, to replace others that were bulldozed in 2006 to make way for the stadium.

The razed fields, in Macombs Dam Park, were the only regulation baseball diamonds nearby, and were home to neighborhood pickup games and youth leagues, and to teams from schools like All Hallows High School, a parochial institution several blocks away.

renderingDoyle Partners/SantecA rendering of the construction plans for Heritage Park, a city park under development next to Yankee Stadium.

“We’ve gone five years now with no ball fields here,” said Sean Sullivan, 55, the principal of All Hallows and a coach of its baseball team, which has spent five years scouring the city for home fields. “They took the parks away from my kids, and now our team is a bunch of gypsies.”

The team, which played part of its 2009 season in Staten Island, is still searching for a site for its league opener on April 7.

The fields were originally to be completed late last year, as the centerpiece of Heritage Field, a 10-acre park where the former Yankee Stadium stood. But the groundbreaking was delayed until last June, and city officials now say the fields will not open until fall 2011.

“They built the new stadium in record time, but building replacement parkland for the community is literally dragging,” said Helen Foster, who represents the neighborhood on the City Council. “I guarantee you if this was another neighborhood, this project would have been fast-tracked.”

Geoffrey Croft, a frequent critic of the parks department, found fault with the parkland project as shortchanging local residents by putting the new stadium on what was a large, contiguous parcel of natural space, only to replace that property with “scattered and inferior” parks with much less vegetation and natural growth, more artificial surfaces and fewer ball fields.

Ms. Foster and other critics blamed city officials for the Heritage Field delays, saying they allowed the old stadium to remain intact long after the team’s final season there, so items could be painstakingly removed for sale as memorabilia.

Adrian Benepe, the city’s parks commissioner, said the delays were a result of various complications, including tightened restrictions on dismantling the old stadium, problems with nearby subway lines and, recently, the particularly cold and snowy winter. He acknowledged that there had been “some inconvenience to the neighborhood” but said that the delays were “not unusual for a complicated project like this.”

“We’re really making an effort to make this a first-rate park,” he said, “as good as any in the city.”

Mr. Benepe said that the sod for the fields would be installed within a month and that progress on the park, which runs along the west side of River Avenue, was “going like gangbusters now.”

“When people look back they don’t say, ‘Did it take longer than we thought?’ ” he said. “They say, ‘Did it deliver what it promised?’ ”

To build the new stadium, more than 22 acres of parkland were cleared, including Macombs Dam Park and a portion of John Mullaly Park. The property included several ball fields – city officials say four, residents insist it was five.

Heritage Field, a $51 million project, is part of a redevelopment of parkland around the stadium that the city was required to undertake by state law, to replace more than 20 acres of parkland taken for the new stadium. Most of the other projects have been completed.

The effort also included creating or renovating eight smaller parks, ranging from a skateboard area on River Road to Mill Pond Park, a 10-acre waterfront expanse near the Harlem River with 16 championship-caliber tennis courts, a beach, a seasonal ice rink, and a tennis and skate house. Adjacent to Heritage Field is the new Macombs Dam Park, with a sprawling field for football and soccer, a 400-meter track, fitness equipment, a grandstand, four basketball courts and eight handball courts.

The full price of the replacement parks is $195 million, far more than the 2005 estimate of $116 million, according to a 2009 report conducted the city’s Independent Budget Office. City officials said the extra costs resulted from unanticipated environmental cleanup, rising construction costs and project expansions.

Ms. Foster accused the Yankees of doing little to help local residents in one of the poorest parts of the country. “There’s this perception in this area that the Yankees’ needs come before everyone else’s,” she said.

A Yankees spokeswoman said the team donated $10 million to the parks replacement project in 2010, and gave $5.6 million worth of donations – including ballpark events, tickets and merchandise – to various Bronx organizations. The team also helped provide buses for local schools, including All Hallows, in 2009, she said.

Yankees officials said on Wednesday that neighborhood residents have reacted to the parks project in largely positive ways.

“I cannot tell you how many people have come up to me to say thank you because the broken-down parks have been replaced,” said Randy Levine, the team president.

Mr. Sullivan, the All Hallows principal and coach, is still a Yankees fan. Though he has no home field for the school’s team for yet another season, his office is full of Yankees memorabilia, and he has high hopes this year for his team, anchored by an ace pitcher, James Norwood, a heavily scouted right-handed senior.

“I hoped the Yankees could have thrown the kids some tickets and made them feel important during all this,” he said. “I guess we’re just little fish in the big ocean.”

Read More:

In Shadow of Yankee Stadium, 3 Unfinished Ball Fields

New York Times - March 31, 2011 - By Corey Kilgannon

Unfortunately More Spin From City Officials

- By Geoffrey Croft

Adrian Benepe's boss, Mayor Bloomberg was finally forced to admit the building of the three ballfields were delayed in part by the Yankee memorabilia issue. In his final Mayoral debate with Comptroller Thompson held on October 27, 2009, the mayor was asked about the replacement parks and the delays.At first he said attempted to down play it, "It has taken a little longer than we planned, " a minute later however when pressed he folded, "It has taken a lot longer - they were a few environmental issues and then the Yankees took a long time in selling off the memorabilia. I don't know how many people wanted to buy seats but apparently a lot of them did."

What he forgot to do was take responsibility for this, or mention that the NY Mets began taking down its stadium the day after their season ended.

In June 2005, without a single public hearing, city and state elected officials transferred 25.3 acres of historic South Bronx parkland to allow the New York Yankees to build a new stadium.As part of this action, the Bloomberg and Pataki administrations and the Yankees organization promised the community not only that the parks would be replaced, but also that even more parkland would be provided in return. As our 2008 Broken Promises report clearly shows, a close examination reveals that only 21.8 of the 25.3 acres are actually being replaced in the community, resulting in a net loss of nearly 4 acres.

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, and EDC have repeatedly attempted to hide this deficiency as well as the serious delays in building replacement facilities - some up to three years. This is particularly abhorrent considering the location, the South Bronx, one of America's poorest communities. And this is only the beginning of the broken promises.

Also it was Helen Foster, who now accuses the Yankees of doing little to help local residents, who sponsored the legislation which allowed the Yankees to seize the 25.3 acres of public parkland. At the end on the day ,when everything is built the community will have lost 4 acres of parkland in the community and including two ballfields. As hard as this administration tries, there is no escaping the truth. Yes the Yankee finally agreed to contribute a paltry $ 10 million for replacement parks while over the last two years the new stadium raked in $ 779 million just from the sale of tickets and luxury suites alone.

This has always been a real estate deal plain and simply. The city handed more than 25 acres of historic parkland so the wealthiest sports franchise in America could make billions on the backs of the country's poorest. The American way. This entire project has been about broken promises. Unfortunately they continue.

The Yankees Win. The Yankees Win.

Monday, March 28, 2011

NYC's # 1 Off-Leash Scofflaw

LOAD OF BULL: William Carrasco with his pit bulls.

LOAD OF BULL: William Carrasco with his pit bulls. Mr. Carrasco was slapped with five tickets for letting his dogs off-leash in Tremont Park during three separate incidents in 2009. He now owes $8,000 in tickets. More than 3,040 dog owners were ticketed for letting their dogs roam off-leash in 2009 and 2010, ECB records show. Another 13 were busted for multiple offenses.

(Photo: Angel Chevrestt)


This guy’s dogs have gone wild.

A Pennsylvania man with an itch for letting his pit bulls loose in Bronx parks is the city’s top dog scofflaw, owing $8,000 in tickets for parading his pets around public parks without their leashes, according to the New York Post.

William "Willie" Carrasco, 43, of Bethlehem, PA, was slapped with five tickets for letting his dogs prance around untethered in Tremont Park during three separate incidents in 2009, according to city Environmental Control Board records.

The rogue ruffs are "Precious," 11, a pit bull-Boxer mix with freckles and plenty of girth, and "Spartacus," 9, a pit bull-Labrador mix with white fur and black patches.

Carrasco said he was just trying to help his doggies’ digestion by letting them off their leashes.

His babies need to run around before they feel nature’s call, the unemployed father said.

"You don’t just eat and do it right away. You have to go out and walk around," said Carrasco, who sleeps with his dogs and treats them like family.

Dogs must be on a leash in parks 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. They are allowed to roam free in designated parks in the early morning hours, along with dog runs.

Tickets issued by parks officers start at $100 and grow to $2,000 for multiple offenses.

Carrasco admitted to being slapped with fines for hanging out in Tremont Park after closing time. He paid those tickets, but didn’t have the dough for the other ones and shoved them in a shoebox, he said.

More than 3,040 lax dog owners were ticketed for letting their dogs roam off-leash in 2009 and 2010, ECB records show. Another 13 were busted for multiple offenses.

The city slapped the dastardly dog owners with $425,860 in fines from the incidents.

Letting fido run free may seem natural enough, but harried hounds have bit parkgoers, drowned in lakes or gotten hit by cars while leash-free, said Geoffrey Croft of New York City Park Advocates, a watchdog group.

"The public should be able to walk through a park without being attacked or scared by an animal," Croft said.

The city officially made early-morning off-leash hours legal in 2007. But the roaming rights only apply to designated parks, and wild areas, ball fields and playgrounds are off limits.

Read More:

8G paddle for No. 1 off-leash scofflaw
New York Post - March 27, 2011 - By Heather Haddon

USTA Builiding New Stadium In Flushing Meadows Park


The USTA occupies 46.5 acres of public parkland and pays the city about $1.5 million a year to rent the park space. The stadiums, except for the US Open and a handful of other tennis matches, sit empty the rest of the year. In a bit of a stretch, Parks Department spokeswoman Vickie Karp calls the building of a new 3,000-seat stadium a "capital improvement," a contractual term which normally refers to making improvements to an existing concession facility. A term usually not associated with building new stadiums.

"The lease holder has the right to make capital improvements. That's what is going on here," she said. - Geoffrey Croft


Billie Jean King is getting a makeover.

The Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Park, the site of the US Open, will get a brand-new 3,000-seat stadium to complement its three existing arenas, the United States Tennis Association said, according to the New York Post.

The Parks Department refused to release the preliminary designs for the new facility, but said it wouldn't require any public money and would not change the current borders beyond the 46.5 acres the tennis center already has.

It's unclear if any of the 30 public courts would be bulldozed to make room for the new facility.

"The lease holder has the right to make capital improvements. That's what is going on here," said Parks Department spokeswoman Vickie Karp.

The new stadium could be ready for side matches at this summer's US Open and will definitely open by 2012, said USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier.

But the project still needs approval from the city Design Commission, which oversees public lands.

"This stadium is not creating more free recreational opportunities for public use on what should be public parkland," said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates. "I would prefer more public-use facilities such as tennis courts or basketball courts instead of concession space."

The USTA pays the city about $1.5 million a year to rent the park space. The stadiums, except for the US Open and a handful of other tennis matches, sit empty the rest of the year.

Read More:

USTA serves up fourth arena
New York Post - March 28, 2011 - By John Doyle and Chuck Bennett

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Brooklyn Waterfront Park In the Middle of Greenpoint/Maspeth MTA Garage Dispute

“No one in Maspeth—no one in Queens—was ever informed that this site was being considered by the administration or by the MTA,” said City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, whose district includes Maspeth. “They thought they could slip this by in secrecy, and it's an outrage.”

Queens Side. The mayor's standard operating land use procedure of not consulting communities has reached a boiling point in Maspeth Queens. On March 4, 2011 Council members Jimmy Van Bramer, Elizabeth Crowley and Assemblywoman Marge Markey joined local residents to denounce the MTA's plan to relocate a depot from Greenpoint Brooklyn to Masbeth Queens. (Photo: By Mitch Waxman)

The Greenpoint community in Brooklyn has long been promised a 2 acre waterfront park at an MTA despot at 65 Commercial Street as part of a 2005 Rezoning Agreement which allowed the building of luxury waterfront condo towers. In order to accommodate the park the MTA has plans to move the 150-vehicle bus despot to 49th Street and Galasso Place in park-starved Maspeth Queens. The MTA had initially rejected the site last year due to environmental concerns. The Bloomberg administration however didn't bother to inform the Queens side of its intent to move the garage to Masbeth. The council members in the area were not contacted and neither was the community board. They were notified of this plan by reading it in the newspapers.

“I am outraged and livid that the City of New York would attempt to sneak a depot into Maspeth,” Council member Jimmy Van Bramer said. “It has been a deceitful lack of process for an administration that claims to be about transparency and good government. There has been nothing even remotely close to good government about this horrible, reckless and dangerous decision to move a depot into Maspeth.”

The MTA is blaming the City. To make matters worse, across the train tracks from the proposed MTA facility stands the St. Saviour's church property - now a vacant lot - which for more than five years the Masbeth community has been trying to turn into a public park.

“Now they're doing a land swap here so that someone else can get a park? It doesn't seem fair,” said Christina Wilkinson, a board member of Communities of Maspeth & Elmhurst Together, or “Comet.” - Geoffrey Croft


Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and Maspeth, Queens, are less than three miles apart, but they're on far-opposite sides of a property dispute.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been thinking of moving a 150-vehicle bus garage from the waterfront in Greenpoint to an industrial location in Maspeth. At least that was the idea until earlier this month, when local Queens politicians caught wind of the plan, according to Crain's New York Business.

“No one in Maspeth—no one in Queens—was ever informed that this site was being considered by the administration or by the MTA,” said City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, whose district includes Maspeth. “They thought they could slip this by in secrecy, and it's an outrage.”

The MTA must move the Greenpoint facility, which services Access-A-Ride vans and sedans, because the two acres it sits on at 65 Commercial St. is slated to be transformed into a handsome city park under a 2005 waterfront rezoning plan.

Several other spots that the agency considered did not work out, and Greenpointers lost patience with what some call classic agency foot-dragging.

District Leader Lincoln Restler organized a protest at the MTA facility last month to bring renewed attention to the missing park.


In its defense, the MTA pins the blame squarely on the city.

“We agreed to move away from Greenpoint provided that City Hall can provide us with an alternative site that's ready to use immediately, that's centrally located and has the appropriate space for storage,” said an MTA spokesman.

When word got out in late February that the city and MTA had found such a place, an industrial lot on the corner of 49th Street and Galasso Place in Maspeth, the reaction was swift and fierce.

Days later, Mr. Van Bramer held a press conference to denounce the proposed move. Meanwhile, state Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. wrote an open letter to MTA Chairman Jay Walder in the Queens Ledger asking the agency to find another site and chastising the good people of Greenpoint.

“While I understand the desire of residents ... to enhance green space in their neighborhood, transferring the depot to Maspeth would be a most unfair solution,” Mr. Addabbo wrote, pointing out that it already has two bus depots and severe traffic congestion.

Brooklyn Side. "This Is Our Park." On February 15, 2011 park proponents held a rally at 65 Commercial Street and posted a notice of eviction to the MTA to protest years of delays in building the greenspace. The city promised a park at this site when the area was rezoned in 2005 to allow for luxury waterfront condo towers. The city pledged to create five parks in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, but all the projects have been plagued by delays. Councilman Steve Levin (D-Greenpoint) said the rezoning has brought a flood of new residents and rising rents - but not the promised open space. He wrote to MTA Chairman Jay Walder urging him to resolve the impasse on Commercial St. "The Williamsburg-Greenpoint community has been forced to wait far too long for construction to begin on this park," he said. (Photo: Sarah Baker)

Perhaps so, Brooklyn leaders say, but the Maspeth space is in an area already zoned for industrial use, unlike the Greenpoint spot, which is designated for a park.

All the talk about parks is going down poorly in Maspeth, which has green dreams of its own.

In fact, across the train tracks from the proposed MTA facility stands a vacant lot of the former St. Saviour's church. Civic groups and Queens politicians have been trying unsuccessfully for years to persuade the city to make the spot a park.

“We suggested a land-swap arrangement years ago for the city to obtain the St. Saviour's property in order to get a park, and the city wasn't interested,” said Christina Wilkinson, a board member of Communities of Maspeth & Elmhurst Together, or “Comet.”

“Now they're doing a land swap here so that someone else can get a park? It doesn't seem fair.”


Though Comet typically focuses on quality-of-life issues—ranging from graffiti to illegal passenger vans—it has made the MTA bus garage and the park at St. Saviour's two of its main concerns.

“I'm sure there's plenty of land in Brooklyn that the MTA and the city can swap for their park instead of bringing the depot here,” Ms. Wilkinson said.

Some in Queens now think that the war of words is starting to go their way.

“I understand that the administration made a promise that they would move the depot,” said Mr. Van Bramer. “But don't punish Maspeth because you need to fulfill promises made in other parts of the city.”

As of last week, an MTA spokesman confirmed that the Maspeth site is being considered as an alternative to Greenpoint and added that the agency remains open to other options.

Read More:

The Queens Ledger - March 15, 2011 - By Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo Jr

The Brooklyn Paper - March 14, 2011 - By Aaron Short

The Greenpoint Star - March 8, 2011 - By Lisa A. Fraser

Greenpoint News - February 17, 2011 - By Jeff Mann

unseen things Newtown Pentacle
A Call to Action from GWAPP That Greenpoint Blog

Artificial Turf Health Hazards Questioned Again In NYC Parks

J. J. Walker Field - Manhattan. The field at James J.Walker Park (bordered by Hudson, Clarkson, Carmine and St. Luke’s Place) was tested for lead on January 8, 2009 and registered 240 ppm — but the city is only now getting around to removing it. Its replacement, in the design phase, will cost $1.6 million. The field is heavily used by Little leagues. (Photos By Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.

Chelsea Now has a front page 2,000 plus word article on the controversy surrounding health issues involving artificial turf, entitled, City parks: Paradise, paved over, hazardous to health? The City is spending millions of dollars to replace three Chelsea fields. The City continues to misrepresent heath and safety issues to elected officials, community boards, and stake holders like little leagues, when questioned about artificial turf safety. The article includes a number of embarrassing misrepresentations made by a Bloomberg administration Parks Department official.

“All turf fields were tested in 2009, and elevated lead levels were NOT found in the fields,” Philip Abramson, DPR spokesperson stressed. But a look at the Parks Department’s own website — which lists lead levels in city parks in all five boroughs — shows that many park surfaces come close to or exceed the new 100 ppm standard established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in November 2008.

The article comes on the heals of an artificial turf expose published in City Limits which recently won an Ippie Award for Best Investigative Story of 2010 for its in-depth examination of how New York City became the world's largest buyer of fake grass. - Geoffrey Croft


It is finally time for those pale, winter-weary bodies to get in shape at one of the city’s 800 athletic fields. But if you’re expecting “natural” to be part of nature, wake up and smell the artificial turf. Paradise has been paved over — and some of it may be hazardous to your health.

Misled about lead

In December 2008, the NYC Health Department tested and found elevated lead levels in the crumb rubber infill material at Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem — 502 ppm (parts per million, equivalent to milligrams per kilogram) — four times greater than allowed in soil. They closed down the field, which has since been replaced. The field at James J.Walker Park (bordered by Hudson, Clarkson, Carmine and St. Luke’s Place) was tested for lead on January 8, 2009 and registered 240 ppm — but the city is only now getting around to removing it. Its replacement, in the design phase, will cost $1.6 million.

Chelsea Park Field - Manhattan. Installed in 1998 for $1.3 million, the
Astroturf-style nylon-carpet field in Chelsea Park on West 27th Street and 10th Avenue was the Parks Department's first artificial turf field. Its replacement, slated to open sometime this spring, is a 50,000-square-foot state-of-the-art field made from synthetic rubber. It is calculated to cost between $1.9 and $2.3 million, almost double the original amount.

“These fields are only being replaced because of their age and due to wear and tear, said Philip Abramson, a spokesperson for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. “All turf fields were tested in 2009, and elevated lead levels were NOT found in the fields,” he stressed. But a look at the Parks Department’s own website — which lists lead levels in city parks in all five boroughs — shows that many park surfaces come close to or exceed the new 100 ppm standard established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in November 2008.

“The city did a composite test, which is problematic because this method hides hot spots,” stated Geoffrey Croft, head of the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates. For most of the fields and play areas, the method was a composite sample of crumb rubber collected from five areas within each field or play area, which were then analyzed for lead. They took individual tests in Thomas Jefferson Park, the way it’s supposed to be done, and it was shut down.

“One hundred million pounds of recycled tires have been dumped into our park system. They’ve taken out natural turf to put in this petroleum-based plastic in our fields,” said Croft. “Over 49 chemicals are in these fields, including some that are carcinogenic, and they never did a single test before the material was put in, in addition to spending hundreds of million of dollars on it. We finally forced the city to test in 2009 — ten years after they began installing the product — and that’s when they found those high lead levels.

“There is no doctor in the world that will tell you that exposure to any level of lead is acceptable. The city wants to hide the fact that they never did any tests,” Croft added.

According to the Parks Department website, there are 136 athletic fields across the city that are composed of synthetic turf material (99 crumb rubber infill, made from recycled ground-up car and truck tires; 19 alternative material infill and 16 carpet-style. In addition to the playing fields, there are 19 small play areas (15 crumb rubber infill and four carpet-style), often within playgrounds that are made of synthetic turf.

Lead was first discovered in an Astroturf field in Newark, N.J., in fall 2007 — the same material used in Chelsea Park. It was found to have up to ten times the amount of lead that is allowed in soil. A Parks Department source, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that discovery alerted the agency to potential problems. But Abramson said, “moving forward,” the city is indeed mandating that contractors comply with the new 100 ppm lead levels. “Contractors must submit heavy metal test results for both fibers and infill prior to a field’s installation. We no longer install infill made out of crumb rubber from recycled tires. Newer technologies have emerged, which have replaced it. They include alternative infills, like virgin rubber, elastomer coated sand, acrylic-coated sand, thermoplastic elastomer and coconut fiber,” he said.

Chelsea Waterside Park at 23rd Street. Under Construction - Fall 2010. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn allocated $ 500,000 as part of the field's replacement. The field is part of Hudson River Park.

The Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) manages Chelsea Waterside Park at 23rd Street. Their new synthetic field, put in three months ago, cost $279,000. But adding in the cost of the new perimeter fence raises the expenditure to $876,150. Council Speaker Christine Quinn provided $500,000 of the funding in the FY2010 capital budget. “The field was replaced due to the conditions of the turf, which was ripped up, had holes in it and had to be patched with Duct tape instead of turf,” said HRPT spokesperson, David Katz, Vice President, Marketing & Events, in an email.

“We are aware of the health and environmental concerns about certain artificial turf products that have been raised and discussed publicly over the last few years and have been tracking the issue closely. This includes monitoring product reports and independent studies, including one conducted by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation on artificial turf’s use in New York City. We also conducted tests on existing fields in the park. Nothing in the research or findings has persuaded us to discontinue selected use of artificial turf in the park because of health or safety concerns. Hudson River Park has been using artificial turf at the fields at Chelsea Waterside and Pier 40 since 1999,” Katz stated.

A handful of City Council members introduced a bill in 2008 (though the hearing was in 2009) to seek the banning of crumb rubber and crumb rubber infill on surfaces used for recreational purposes, but it did not pass because it faced a lot of opposition, not only from the Parks Department, but also from athletic groups and others who came to testify, a City Council source told Chelsea Now.

In September 2008, California’s state attorney general sued three artificial turf manufacturers for violating the state’s Proposition 65 environmental law “by knowingly failing to disclose that their products contain lead,” reported the Los Angeles Times. “Children and other individuals can ingest harmful levels of lead by absorbing it through the skin or by rubbing the ersatz grass and then touching food or their mouths, the suit contends…Although artificial turf presents little or no danger when it is new, lead levels rise to potentially harmful levels as it gets forms more dust…and could contain levels of lead that are more than 20 times what’s allowed by Proposition 65,” the deputy attorney general stated.

New York State has not enacted any artificial turf legislation that would require testing or disclosing to the public that a product contains lead. One of the three companies named in the lawsuit was FieldTurf USA Inc. of Florida, the company that put down the turf at Chelsea Waterside Park. “We are aware that this is one of the brands that was previously sued,” said Katz, “but FieldTurf agreed to eliminate lead from their products, among other changes.”

Feel the heat — and other hazards

Another danger posed by artificial turf is the heat it generates. In July 2010, NYC Park Advocates took temperature readings at a dozen city parks before noon. Artificial turf fields measured over 170 degrees, the highest temperature recorded in three years of monitoring. By 9:15am, the temperature had risen to over 140 degrees. “Young children are particularly susceptible as it can take only two seconds to burn on solid surfaces greater than 140 degrees, according to doctors,” said Croft. “Exposure to artificial turf can lead to blisters, dehydration, nausea and heat stroke, which can lead to death.”

In addition to the burn risk, in February 2009 then Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum testified before the Committee on Parks and Recreation Hearing on Artificial Turf that it could potentially contribute to the urban heat island effect. “The heat gets trapped in there,” said Croft. “Grass runs about 70 to 80 degrees cooler, it’s natural, creates oxygen, cleans the air and absorbs water.” Croft recently debated a spokesperson for the synthetic turf council on NY1, and the man admitted that the fields are “only hot on sunny, cloudless days.”

The Parks Department has issued a heat advisory on its website, instructing field staff about potential heat-related risks involving synthetic turf, “including overheating and dehydration.” Parks has posted signs at all synthetic turf fields cautioning the public about heat-related illnesses and is using a number of alternative infill materials that retain less heat than crumb rubber, acknowledged Abramson. The City Council passed a local law in 2009 that requires signs to be posted in parks that warn of the heat dangers. But there was a feeling at the time from advocates that the language wasn’t strong enough, the City Council source said.

“We have also installed water ‘misters’ near the benches of fields that might get particularly hot in an effort to allow players to cool down more easily, and we continue to look for ways to reduce the summertime temperatures on synthetic turf fields,” said Abramson. “It is important to note that playing on an asphalt lot would present the same heat-related concerns.”

Another concern, noted Gotbaum, is that because synthetic turf does not absorb water like natural turf, it increases storm water run-off, which “may also carry toxic elements picked up from the turf into our sewers and waterways,” she said.

Chelsea Now asked Abramson what happens to discarded turf — is it dumped into landfill or rivers — but his answer was succinct and only related to Chelsea Park. “The field at Chelsea that was removed was made out of carpet — not crumb rubber — and it was removed by our contractor as construction debris,” he replied.

July 11. 2010. Falling Apart - Brooklyn, NY. Throwing Good Money After Bad. Despite investing hundreds of millions of dollars in artificial turf - like natural turf fields - the City has no maintenance plan, or money for upkeep. Some fields are falling apart after only a few years.

Wear, tear and maintenance

One of the primary reasons the city has been laying down synthetic turf is its alleged durability and low maintenance. Said Abramson, “A synthetic turf field is expected to last eight to ten years, whereas a heavily used natural grass field wears down quicker without adequate rest, reseeding and extensive care. Synthetic turf fields are typically utilized for about 3,000 hours of play per year, with no rest required, the equivalent of three to four well-maintained natural turf fields. In addition, synthetic turf maintenance costs are two to three times less than natural turf, since no mowing, irrigation or chemicals are needed.”

The Parks Department calculates the annual cost for the upkeep of one grass athletic field as $14,000, including equipment and staffing — although there has never been any evidence to support that figure, reported City Limits. For instance, the Central Park Conservancy, a public-private partnership, hasn’t replaced the grass fields of the Great Lawn since it was renovated over 12 years ago.

The Parks Department source told Chelsea Now that the synthetic turf “has a lot of failings,” lasts five to seven years “and then starts to unravel and deteriorate in different ways.” City Limits did a random survey of 56 artificial fields last summer and discovered 25, or 46%, “in serious state of disrepair, with gaps, tears and holes forming obvious hazards.” The Parks source said the Parks Department knows all of this. “We have tried to tell them since 2004.” In fact, an internal Parks Department memo from 2006 reported that inspected turf installed only three to five years before “displayed problems” and “defects ranging from disintegrating fibers and carpet wrinkling to shredded seams and playing lines ripped out completely.”

The source continued, “Fiscally, it’s problematic because when it starts to deteriorate, it’s capital money to put down a new carpet and the old, plastic carpet goes to landfill. It’s a better playing surface than asphalt fields, but it wasn’t good for replacing natural turf or passive use areas.”

But now, the city is beginning to use artificial turf in passive areas as well, i.e., where people lounge to take in the sun. “There is even less justification than for athletic fields. They no longer use crumb rubber, but there is still the heat issue, and we don’t always know what is in the material they are putting down,” the City Council source stated. Legislation is currently pending to ban the use of artificial turf in passive areas, sponsored by Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose district includes Thomas Jefferson Park.

Croft posits that the city refuses to allocate maintenance dollars to take care of fields. “It’s called recapitalization of parks. You fix it up, watch it disintegrate over the years and then need to spend money again. The public needs to demand accountability of these elected officials. They are just allocating without asking questions.”

To date, according to Croft, only three fields that have registered lead levels have been replaced — Thomas Jefferson, J.J. Walker and Chelsea Park. “The city has not exactly rushed to fix the problem,” he stated. “And we are not even talking about all those schoolyards and playgrounds. It’s irresponsible.”

Read More:

Chelsea Now - March 23, 2011 - By Bonnie Rosenstock

A Walk in The Park - March 25, 2011 - By Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park - November 15, 2010

A Walk In The Park - July 17, 2011 - By Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park - July 7, 2010 - By Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park - July 4, 2010

A Walk In The Park - April 4, 2010

A Walk In The Park - March 6, 2010

A Walk In The Park - January 18, 2010

A Walk In The Park - November 24, 2009