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Turf war erupts over the future of Bklyn parks

Hundreds of residents run and play on the McCarren Park track every day without realizing that the rubberized pellets underneath the artificial turf may be hazardous.

On Wednesday, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum joined Queens Councilmember Eric Gioia and members of New Yorkers For Parks, urging the city Parks Department to create a replacement schedule for artificial turf fields in New York City parks after they recently stopped installing new artificial fields with recycled rubber.

“For over two years, I raised concerns about the potential health and environmental hazards of using recycled rubber tires at playgrounds,” said Gotbaum. “If they were concerned enough to announce they would no longer use artificial turf made from recycled tires, they should be equally concerned about the safety of the fields made from this material that are already in use.”

Gotbaum and several environmental groups renewed their calls for replacing fields like McCarren Park (bounded by Nassau Avenue and Bayard, Leonard and North 12th Streets) after the EPA recently released a memo noting research that suggested potential health hazards related to contact with crumb−rubber infill made from recycled tires. These materials may contain lead and other toxins, and several synthetic fields throughout the country have been closed because of high levels of lead.

“We are asking the city to establish protocols for testing the synthetic turf,” said Sheelah Feinberg, Government and External Relations Director of New Yorkers for Parks. “The field here is starting to show signs of wear and tear. Glass blades are worn down. When you see pockets of black, you’re seeing the actual rubber pellets.”

Local public officials have been supportive of Gotbaum’s efforts to replace the turf with natural grass. Parks officials have balked at that request, claiming the renovations would cost too much. North Brooklyn parks are already facing proposed cuts of upwards of $57 million, though a spokesperson with New Yorkers for Parks claims the installation of a grass field at McCarren would cost only $14,000 and would be less expensive to maintain in the long run.

Assemblymember Joseph Lentol believes that the city should replace the fields immediately if exposure is proven to cause health complications, but did not want to rush to remove McCarren’s artificial turf for grass.

“The turf fields provide a resilient playing surface that does not need to be maintained, saving money that can be used to fund other parks programs in our communities,” said Lentol. “Before taking away these fields that can be a real asset when used in moderation, we must be sure the science is sound and do so quickly to ensure the health of our communities.”

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