Health concerns cloud ETHS sports field project plans

A diagram of the elements of an artificial turf field, from a May 2018 City of Evanston presentation.

The Evanston Township High School Board this week voted to spend $571,540 to replace the artificial turf at Lazier Field, but the administration is still deciding what material to use as infill on the field.

When artificial turf was first installed at Lazier Field in 2008, the school used crumb rubber, made from old tires, as the infill. That's a product that has since come under criticism as a possible carcinogen -- although the studies suggesting a link have also been criticized.

The Federal Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to release an update on its analysis of the research "in early 2019."

As a result of concerns expressed by residents, the City of Evanston last year decided to substitute ethylene propylene dienne monomer or EPDM for crumb rubber on the planned artificial turf fields at the Robert Crown Community Center.

EPDM is made from door and window seals, hoses, track and playground surfacing and toys. The theory is that since EPDM's source products aren't exposed to the same hazardous roadway chemicals that tires are, it should be safer.

But EPDM costs more. The city anticipates spending about $222,000 more to use EPDM on the three turf fields at the Crown Center.

Mary Rodino, the ETHS chief financial officer, in a memo to the board, said an upgrade would add $175,000 to the Lazier Field cost estimate.

ETHS Athletic Director Chris Livatino said that the administration needed to get the budget for resurfacing the field approved soon so they could get the work scheduled and completed before the field is needed for summer programs.

“We’re aiming for a May 28 start date,” he said and the project is expected to take four weeks.

In her memo, Rodino said that 28 of the 33 turf fields installed in northern Illinois by FieldTurf, the district’s preferred vendor, have been filled with crumb rubber.

“All of the rubber options that can be used as infill, including EPDM, contain a certain amount of chemicals,” she said. “There is no evidence to support that crumb rubber (or any other rubber material used in turf) has a cancer link,” she said.

Since the board has approved the base amount of the project, “We’re going to take some time to review information about all the options and make sure our kids will be safe,” Livatino said.

If the decision on infill results in an additional cost, the school board will need to approve the extra funding.

Related stories

ETHS plans to resurface Lazier Field (1/12/2019)

Turf choice at Crown could triple cost (5/18/2018)

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