January 17, 2017

Sierra Club Sues City to Stop Beach Chalet Soccer Fields Project

Beach Chalet proposed 60-foot light towers.

Beach Chalet proposed 60-foot light towers.

The Sierra Club has joined a lawsuit charging the City of San Francisco with failing to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in its proposed Beach Chalet Soccer Fields project. The complaint alleges that the city:

  • is potentially putting children at risk when they play on the suspect artificial turf;
  • abdicates significant  control over the quality and safety of artificial turf to a private association;
  • failed to even consider a feasible alternative site outside of Golden Gate Park and a design using a safe, non-toxic artificial turf.

(For information about the Club’s appeal of this project to the Coastal Commission, see theYodeler.org/?p=6549.)

The Sierra Club has joined SF Coalition for Children’s Outdoor Play, Education and the Environment and other co-plaintiffs, who initially filed a Petition and Complaint against the City on October 12, 2012. City Fields Foundation, a private non-profit association that is funding part of the Project and who says it has spearheaded the Beach Chalet project for the past six years, has intervened as a party in the lawsuit on the City’s behalf.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the City to immediately stop the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields Project until a legally adequate Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is prepared and adopted by the City.

Michelle Myers, Chapter Director of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, says, “The City should be protecting the health of its residents. Without giving any reason, it decided not to analyze the potential dangers of using an artificial turf that has been identified as toxic in several peer-reviewed scientific articles [see references at the end of this release], and it exceeds the CEQA threshold for acute toxicity and cancer risk by 120% — as the EIR admits.

The City has refused to analyze an alternate site that could provide the same quantity and quality of soccer experience using a non-toxic artificial turf. The City instead decided to desecrate the natural character of the west end of Golden Gate Park with:

  • stadium lighting on ten 60-foot-tall light poles, broadcasting 150,000 watts of light, 365 days a year, until 10 p.m.;
  • the installation of stadium seating for 1,000 spectators
  • paving and expanding the existing parking lot by 30%.

Arthur Feinstein, Chairperson of the Sierra Club Bay Chapter, said, “This is why we have an California Environmental Quality Act. It is meant to ensure that decision-makers actually have all the information they need to make informed decisions that do not threaten us or our environment’s health, and it also lets us, the public, know on what basis these decisions are made. In this case, however, the City decided to ignore a CEQA mandated threshhold level of acute toxicity that should have triggered further investigation and possibly mitigation for potential impacts to our health. Instead the City simply said, in our wisdom, and without any evidence, we choose to not consider this important. We believe that when the City gives away much of its ability to control the type and construction and placement of this artificial turf, the City is abdicating its responsibility. Here we believe a 2006 agreement between City Fields Foundation and City shows the City has not exercised its independent judgment. When we go to a City park we should feel confident that the City has done all it can to ensure the safety of the park. In this case, the City has failed to do this by ignoring its CEQA responsibiities.”

The President for Viking Soccer Parents for Grass Fields in Golden Gate Park, Kathleen McCowin, wants to reflect on her concerns as a mother. “When our kids play on ground tire based fields, we see poor containment of the infill by the surface plastic turf. These industrial waste particles contain many toxic chemicals, such as the carcinogens benzene and carbon black, and toxins at levels fatal to water animals exposed to field run-off. After our kids play on plastic turf over ground-tire fill, they have these particles all over them, including their hair, in their ears, and wiping it from their eyes. We believe San Francisco can do better for its children.”

The Amended Petition and Complaint alleges several deficiencies in the EIR, including:

1) The EIR fails to disclose the significant health risks of the toxic chemicals found in the styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR) tire crumb used in the artificial turf proposed for the soccer fields and fails to consider safe alternatives to this material. In the EIR, the City admits that the material has an acute toxicity index more than double the City’s CEQA significance threshold, yet decides, without providing any reason, that this is not significant (the hazard index was 2.2, sufficiently close to a hazard index of 1.” — Final EIR).

2) The City, in a 2006 Memorandum of Understanding with City Fields Foundation, gave up significant  control of  the type of artificial turf used:

“The Foundation will select a contractor or contractors of its choice to perform all services relating to site preparation and installation of the Fields. The Foundation will fund all costs associated with the Foundation contracts or subcontracts for construction management, design consultation/value engineering, and contractor’s work, and with the acquisition of all materials and supplies necessary for the contractor to perform its work, including, but not limited to, the Turf.”

For other Sierra Club efforts to stop this project, see theYodeler.org/?p=6549.


   Quotations from the Sierra Club’s brief–relating to the dangers of artificial turf, including quotations from a number of key publications:

  • The EIR relies on a study conducted by the California Environmental Protection Agency Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) in 2009. That study concludes that artificial turf fields with SBR crumb rubber infill create a cancer risk of approximately 18.8 per million – 18 times above the CEQA significance threshold. The OEHHA Study concludes:

“Estimated inhalation exposures of soccer players to five of these (benzene, formaldehyde, naphthalene, nitromethane and styrene) gave theoretical increased lifetime cancer risks that exceeded the insignificant risk level of 10-6 (OEHHA, 2006).” (p.33)

California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) (2009):

Chemical Increased Cancer Risk

Benzene 2.8/million

Formaldehyde 1.6/million

Naphthalene 3.8/million

Nitromethane 8.7/million

Styrene 1.9/million

CUMULATIVE 18.8/million

  • A recent peer-reviewed journal article study published in 2011 concludes that soccer pitches with SBR infill create a significant cancer risk above 1 per million due to dioxin-like chemicals. Menichini, et al., Sci Total Environ. 2011 Nov 1;409(23):4950-7. Epub 2011 Sep 9. The article concludes:

“The artificial-turf granulates made from recycled rubber waste are of health concern due to the possible exposure of users to dangerous substances present in the rubber, and especially to PARs [petroleum hydrocarbons]. In this work, we determined the contents of PARs, metals, nondioxin-like PCBs (NDL- PCBs), PCDDs and PCDFs in granulates, and PAR concentrations in air during the use of the field… an excess lifetime cancer risk of 1 x10(-6) was calculated for an intense 30-year activity.”

  • The EIR fails to analyze health risks from dioxin-like compounds at all.
  • The City refused to consider the most recent peer-reviewed scientific journal article on SBR, published in the highly respected journal Chemospere, entitled “Hazardous Organic Chemicals in Rubber Recycled Tire Playgrounds and Pavers” (Llompart, M., et. al.) that became available on August 22, 2012. The study investigated the presence of hazardous organic chemicals in surfaces containing recycled rubber tires. The study was initiated because of a concern that the application of used tires in recycled products such as rubber mulch used for sport fields and playground surfaces places children at risk. The study revealed that the used tires on sport fields and playground surfaces contain a large number of hazardous substances including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phthalates, antioxidants, benzothiazole and derivatives, among other chemicals. Many of these hazardous substances were at high or extremely high levels. In addition, vapor studies revealed that many of the organic compounds are volatile even at room temperature. The study concludes that because of the “presence of a high number of harmful compounds, frequently at high or extremely high levels, in these recycled rubber materials…they should be carefully controlled, and their final use should be restricted or even prohibited in some cases.”
  • Dr. Phillip Landrigan, MD, epidemiologist and Director of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Children’s Environmental Health Center in New York, submitted a letter to the City Planning Department on May 8, 2012, stating:

The major chemical components of crumb rubber are styrene and butadiene, the principal ingredients of the synthetic rubber used for tires in the United States. Styrene is neurotoxic. Butadiene is a proven human carcinogen. It has been shown to cause leukemia and lymphoma. The crumb rubber pellets that go into synthetic turf fields also contain lead, cadmium and other metals. Some of these metals are included in tires during manufacture, and others picked up by tires as they roll down the nation’s streets and highways. There is a potential for all of these toxins to be inhaled, absorbed through the skin and even swallowed by children who play on synthetic turf fields. Only a few studies have been done to evaluate this type of exposure risk, the most notable by EPA in 2009, NY State DEC in 2009, and CT DEP in 2012.

  • Matthew Hagemann, C.Hg., former director of US EPA’s West Coast Superfund program, concludes that the Project will have significant cancer and non-cancer health risks. Mr. Hagemann states:

Toxins from tire crumb can enter the body through inhalation of particulates, fibers, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs can cause organ damage, irritation of eyes, throat, and airways, and nervous system impairments. Synthetic turf can be heated to high temperatures when exposed to sunlight which, in turn, can lead to further release of VOCs.

The DEIR includes references to synthetic turf studies that have shown risks to human health from inhalation of VOCs to exceed a commonly accepted threshold of one additional cancer incidence in a population of a million people (“one in a million or 10- 6”). Although this is disclosed in the DEIR, the DEIR fails to identify this as a significant impact and fails to mitigate the risk.

One study cited in the DEIR, a 2009 study prepared by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), concludes that soccer players with inhalation exposure to vapors from a theoretical scenario of playing for 51 years on synthetic turf would have increased “lifetime cancer risks that exceeded the insignificant risk level of 10-6” from breathing benzene, formaldehyde, naphthalene, nitromethane and styrene, chemicals associated with VOC vapors from synthetic turf. The OEHHA finding of significant health risks was corroborated by a 2011 Italian study in which showed risk to be in excess of 10-6 from particle-bound polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Another 2011 study found that benzothiazole, a chemical that causes respiratory irritation and dermal sensitization, volatilizes from crumb rubber resulting in inhalation exposure. The latter two studies are not mentioned in the DEIR.

The individual risks from benzene, formaldehyde, naphthalene, nitromethane and styrene each exceed the one in a million threshold. When summed, the cancer risk from

chemicals identified in the OEHHA study equals 1.9 in 100,000 which exceeds a 10-5 level (or one in a hundred thousand) risk level (19 in a million).


  1. Gabriel Lampert says:

    I’m so glad you folks are taking this up. But I wish you had included the stadium lighting as part of your objections.

  2. Erica Chahal says:

    Why is Mayor Lee going ahead with this project, when it is not just environmentally unfriendly, with the lights and the noise and the increased parking, but will, more importantly, poison our kids with the known toxins in astroturf.

  3. It’s time for a national Sierra Club statement exposing the environmental and public health impact of the toxins involved in synthetic turf and SBR tire crumb .
    The Sierra Club, Maryland Chapter made the following statement regarding the Safe Healthy Playfields Coalition. http://www.safehealthyplayingfields.org/

    The Delegate Waldstreicher:

    I am writing to inform you that Sierra Club, Maryland Chapter, supports the introduction of legislation to ban the use of Program Open Space funds for the construction new artificial turf recreation fields using plastic and pulverized or other recycled tire materials, or for the conversion of existing playing fields to artificial turf. Specifically, we support introduction of a bill using the language proposed by the Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition. The proposal is consistent with Sierra Club policies regarding toxic materials and the Precautionary Principle.

    Please let me know if you have questions about our position.
    I look forward to working with you throughout the General Assembly session.

    David O’Leary
    Chapter Chair
    Sierra Club, Maryland Chapter

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