Testing of city synthetic fields, including many here in Queens, quietly began late last year after the Health Department found toxic lead levels four-times the regulated minimum at a park in upper Manhattan.
So far 94 artificial surfaces have been tested out of a total of 111 installed throughout the city, according to the Parks Department.
None of the fields tested thus far have come back positive for lead, according to Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski.
The city closed the soccer field at Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem last December after an analysis found as much as 1,956 parts-per-million of lead, well above the federally mandated cap of 400 parts-per-million for the toxic substance in children’s play areas.
NYC Parks Advocates and Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) called for a citywide moratorium on the installation of synthetic fields in the wake of the toxicity findings at Jefferson Park, which were made public this week.
“We need to know definitively if these fields are dangerous to our kids’ health,” said Gioia, who is running this year for public advocate. “A moratorium gives us the time needed to examine them.”
Artificial turf fields have become increasingly popular with the Parks Department because of the low maintenance involved.
The surfaces are also a big hit with city soccer, baseball and field hockey enthusiasts since the fields are playable year-round, barring heavy snowfall.
But groups like NYC Parks Advocates have warned that the surfaces, in some cases made from recycled rubber tires, contain toxic substances like lead, arsenic, cadmium and zinc.
The field at Manhattan’s Thomas Jefferson Park consists of a “crumb rubber” material, of particular concern to parents since the substance can be easily injested.
Assistant Commissioner Nancy Clark of the Department of Health in a City Council hearing on Monday acknowledged the presence of heavy metal contaminants in some artificial surfaces, but that “the degree of exposure is likely to be too small through ingestion, dermal or inhalation to increase the risk for any health effect.”
Concerns about the safety of crumb rubber prompted the Parks Department to change to coated sand as an infill substance at the recently-opened carpet-style soccer field at St. Michael’s Park in Astoria, according to NYC Parks Advocate Director Geoffrey Croft.
Lewandowski confirmed that the change in material had been made, but said the switch was prompted by concerns about excessive temperatures during summer’s heat, not worries about lead contamination.
“The fields are safe, and people should be confident using them,” she said.