Crews work to tear down the sledding hill at Ridgeland Common. David Pierini/staff photographer

If you avoid phthalates and other chemicals for yourself and your children, then you might want a little heads-up about what will soon be installed at Ridgeland Common and could possibly be installed at Stevenson Park. The artificial “grass” is made from polyethylene, but it’s the infill that is dangerous in my opinion.

So many of us are unaware of what crumb rubber is and why it can be so dangerous. Crumb rubber is made from recycled tires, containing all kinds of chemicals, such as phthalates (endocrine disrupter, anticipated carcinogen), carbon black (particularly scary — carbon nanoparticles can act like asbestos does), benzene (carcinogen), cadmium, and other kinds of chemicals that are not even revealed by tire manufacturers. Anything could be in there, and our children will be playing on it.

The infill should be regulated as a children’s product. But it is not regulated at all. The quality of crumb rubber varies widely, and there are no long-term studies showing its safety. So as a mother and a person concerned about the environment, I look at what the ingredients are, and they are things I would not want in or on my children, in the air, in the soil, or in the water.

There are alternatives. We could stick with soil and grass and take better care of both. This does not mean pouring chemical herbicides, fertilizers, and pesticides onto the field. Improving the soil is key to the health of any plant. There are organic alternatives — compost would be a great one, regularly spreading a thin layer would be a sane option. Corn gluten fertilizes soil and is a pre-emergent “weed” suppressant (I would argue we need to change our attitudes about weeds anyway). In the interest of space, I won’t go into all of the other facets of creating healthy soil and grass.

If we still decide a synthetic turf is the only way to go, then there are alternatives to crumb rubber. Cork is a possibility as are coconut fibers, which would also help to reduce the excessive heat produced by crumb rubber. These are natural and would not pose the hazards that come from crumb rubber.

Pros and cons need to be carefully weighed. I believe that manufacturers and vendors of synthetic turf minimize the potential dangers inherent in crumb rubber. These health effects might not be apparent for decades. I do not think that the benefits of artificial turf outweigh its risks.

I am against synthetic turf for other reasons. In this time of global warming, we should be trying to plant more plants, not remove such huge tracts of land and replace it with plastics, rubber and chemicals. We should be trying to improve the local environment, not damage it.

I understand that parents want their children to be physically active; I want my children to spend time outdoors doing physical activities too. But — I do not want my children or my fellow residents being exposed to such potentially damaging toxins. Watch this powerful video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3PkDHU7p70 and another featuring doctors and scientists: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAdDiqDRL2I. They give a balanced view of the issues. For further reading: http://www.ehhi.org/reports/turf.

Let the park district know how you feel to help them in their decision-making process about these synthetic fields.

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