On Jan. 29, the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter and its co-plaintiffs appealed the decision of San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teri L. Jackson that would allow the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (SFRPD) to irresponsibly ignore the fact that the artificial-turf material proposed for use in soccer fields in the west end of Golden Gate Park exceeds the safety thresholds for toxic chemicals set by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD).
“The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department should make spaces safe for our children, not allow them to be exposed to chemicals that are proven unsafe for their health,” said Michelle Myers, Chapter director of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Sadly, the department has taken a wrong turn this time.”
In this case, the SFRPD admitted in its California Environmental Quality Act documents that the artificial turf proposed for use at the Beach Chalet soccer fields exceeded the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s Acute Hazard Index by at least 200%. Despite this finding, the SFRPD insisted that close is good enough, and that using toxic material for playfields for children is not a problem.
Under the California Environmental Quality Act, if a project exceeds the BAAQMD Acute Hazard Index, the Environmental Impact Report must recognize and impose all feasible mitigation measures and alternatives to reduce the risk. Instead, the SFRPD decided to ignore these requirements and simply assumed it knew better than the agency specifically created to control these toxic materials.
Unfortunately, the Superior Court judge agreed with the city, leading to this appeal.
The BAAQMD measures toxicity in several ways. It measures toxicity for cancer. And it measures toxicity from non-cancer causing chemicals, such as lead, carbon black and other chemicals, that have significant impacts on humans, such as asthma, reproductive impacts, IQ deficits, etc. The Acute Hazard Index (AHI) measures the latter chemicals. When a project exceeds the AHI threshold it means that there is sufficient exposure to these chemicals to warrant concern. The SFRPD decided it knew better.
The city’s own documents admit that for non-cancer causing toxicity, the contaminants in the turf exceed the AHI. The city didn’t adhere to these findings.
The San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club is confident that the Court of Appeals will recognize the need to evaluate the potential harm that may come from using this artificial turf material and ask the SFRPD to do a better job.
The California Environmental Quality Act was created to ensure that decision-makers are presented with all the information they need in order to minimize environmental harm from projects to the maximum extent feasible. It was also created to ensure that the public is given the opportunity in court to challenge documents that fail to provide full information and decisions that ignore facts in order to approve environmentally harmful projects.
Examples of the toxic chemicals that may be released from this artificial turf include: acetone, aniline, arsenic, barium, benzene, benzothiazole, cadmium, chloroethane, chromium, cobalt, copper, halogenated flame retardants, isoprene, latex, lead, manganese, mercury, methyl ethyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone, naphthalene, nickel, phenol, pigments, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, styrene – butadiene, toluene, and trichloroethylene.
Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) retracted an earlier position that this artificial-turf material was safe. The sole study on artificial turf that EPA conducted was back in 2009 when it took air and surface samples from three athletic fields and from one playground. The testing looked only at one chemical on brand new fields without levels of activity typical on a field or playground and ignored the role of heat in chemical release. The EPA now states that the study was “very limited” and provides no basis for assuming that its use at other sites will be safe. (PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, http://www.peer.org/news/news-releases/2013/12/23/epa-retracts-synthetic-turf-safety-assurances/)