If you play any outdoor field sports in Seattle--e.g. soccer, ultimate frisbee, flag football--you know how awesome the synthetic turf fields are. They don't turn to soup in the winter, and consequently aren't full of ankle- and knee-preying dips and divots in the summer. They also save money in maintenance costs, as they don't need to be fertilized, re-seeded, etc.
Frisbee in Park by Photo Knight, used under CC 2.0 license
But because of environmental concerns--there have been stories of synthetic fields that test positive for lead, and the crumb rubber (i.e. little black dots made from tires) that line the turf bed can contain trace amounts of toxic chemicals--the City Council had been holding back on spending money on those fields since July 2008.
After today, it looks like they won't be holding back much longer. The Parks Committee voted 3-0 this morning to release $24.2 million in funds for four synthetic turf fields (two in Lower Woodland, one in Delridge, and one in Genesee) and other projects from the 2008 parks levy. After hearing from constituents who warned against trusting experts--they analogized to the failure of experts in creating the global financial crisis, among other things and contrasted "trust in experts" with "the caution principle"--the committee heard from the Parks Department, which presented a bunch of expert studies.
Basically, the available research shows little risk to human or animal health, and the manufacturer of the fields has asserted that they're lead free, though an older field in Genesee does contain lead, albeit at non-toxic levels, says the Parks Department. Bainbridge Island reviewed the same research on the turf and came to the same conclusion, giving it the green light.
A few things worth noting: Any environmental effects of the field turf need to be weighed against the environmental effects of watering, fertilizing, and applying pesticide to real grass. Also, the current manufacturer has not issued a warranty on the lead-free status of its fields, something Richard Conlin suggested the Parks Department seek. Finally, the committee encouraged the Parks Department to test runoff from the fields for heavy metals.
The measure won't officially pass until the full Council votes for it on Monday, but Tom Rasmussen aide Ann Corbitt says it's not expected to encounter any significant opposition.