Amid so-far-unconfirmed safety fears, Evanston aldermen Monday will face an expensive choice about what to use for the fill material on planned artificial turf fields at the new Robert Crown Center.

The most commonly used fill material — a combination of crumb rubber and sand — is estimated by staff to cost $176,700.

Crumb rubber, produced from recycled car tires, has not been shown to pose health risks in scientific studies conducted so far, and FIFA, the international soccer federation, issued a statement last year arguing the health effects of the product “are as negligible as the effect of ingesting grilled foods or exposure to tire wear on roads in everyday life.”

The Chicago Park District, which makes extensive use of the artificial turf fields, includes summaries of several research studies in a frequently asked questions document

But news reports in 2014 citing clusters of cancer cases among youth soccer players led the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies in 2016 to launch a comprehensive safety study of the product. Findings of that study are expected to be released this summer.

In February this year the safety fears led to a heated meeting of the Niles Park District Board, where some residents demanded that crumb rubber used at a recreation center there be replaced. The board issued a statement defending its choice and rejected the residents’ demands.

Some residents apparently were driven to attend the meeting by a television news report two days earlier in which the village’s mayor, who has no authority over the park district, said “regardless of the cost, it should be taken out.”

There are more than a half dozen alternatives to crumb rubber as filler in artificial turf.

But a city staff report says they range from roughly twice to nearly four times as expensive — and several of them are also made from rubber products.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Crown Center Turf Filler
    My daughter played soccer at ETHS – was captain of the team and the goalie. She continued to plat in college and was also captain. Her school had turf with the rubber filler. She said she came off the field each practice and game covered with the stuff, because as a goalie, she had to dive frequently to the point of breathing it in and swallowing it at times, let alone the noxious fumes on hot days.

    She came down with Hodgkins Lymphoma between her Soph and Junior year. She is now fully recovered, but no child should ever have to be subjected to this health issue. The cost of alternative filler is not triple the cost of rubber, it is more like 15% to 20% more. The reason I know this is that my daughter spearheaded a campaign at her college to use the alternative – safe – filler, which the university ended up going with.

    John Kennedy
    1119 Hinman

    1. Before jumping to conclusions…
      First and foremost, this post is not directed at John in any way. I am sorry to hear what your daughter had to go through and am glad to hear she has recovered.
      While I fully respect the opinions of anyone opposed to the use of the filler (I think organized sports is a tremendous waste of money anyway, so that any taxpayer dollars spent on a glorified grass field field to kick a ball around is ludicrous to me), I do want to point out a few things in the CBS 2 reports. All the groups making claims about a link between cancer and the filler are not scientific organizations, but political/social advocacy groups. Not to say that they can’t and shouldn’t be lobbying their position, just that their understanding of the science is…questionable. A year ago, a piece on this very topic appeared in STAT. Given how complicated the mechanism underlying cancers are and how difficult it is to say what caused a specific person’s cancer, no answer is ever satisfying. I can’t imaging the struggle a parent with a child would go through, so I can’t blame them in the slightest for wanting to act out of an abundance of caution. However, the news reports like the one linked (the CBS Investigators one and even the NBC ) are extremely troublesome, as they lack scientific and journalistic integrity. Fortunately, the Evanston Now article presented the topic balanced, referencing both the concern and the lack of scientific data (extra kudos to Bill for doing this on a much smaller budget, too). This seems like yet another example of using the fact that science is never able to prove anything, just disprove all alternate hypotheses. The message isn’t to say that we should embrace the use of crumb rubber filler either (my position is that dirt is cheap, so anything more expensive that dirt shouldn’t come from taxpayers), but that decisions need to be made honestly and using the best available science. This means also not just saying that alternatives are more safe when there is the same lack of rigorous studies on their safety.

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