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The grass is NEVER greener: Conroe ISD plans to gouge taxpayers $23,146,160 for “Astro-Turf” in crazed May 4 bond fumble

The grass is NEVER greener: Conroe ISD plans to gouge taxpayers $23,146,160 for “Astro-Turf” in crazed May 4 bond fumble

Image: This football field looked a bit different after just one (1) hour of rain! Welcome to the fools’ paradise of artificial turf.

Conroe, February 11 – As part of an $807 million (plus interest) tax hike, which will almost double the debt of the Conroe Independent School District (CISD), the school district plans to gouge Montgomery County taxpayers $23,146,160, plus interest, for Astro-Turf, or artificial turf, more benignly labeled “turf conversion” for sports fields. The $807 tax hike election will come in the form of the May 4, 2019, CISD bond election.

Let’s just take an example and look at Conroe High School, which has a softball field. CISD proposes to spend $1,000,000 for the “turf conversion” for that one softball field alone. Seriously. One million dollars, which could instead go for the children, for education, for improving reading comprehension, for improving mathematics ability, or for improving academic results.

The gist of the argument in favor of artificial turf, of course, is that it’s supposedly cheaper, doesn’t require maintenance, and never wears out, unlike that nasty old stuff known as “grass” that almost all adults had to suffer with as they grew up, went to school, and had to endure the disgrace of outdoor parks with real plants rather than artificial ones.

During the popular show, “It’s Hammer Time,” on Friday, February 8, 2019, Conroe ISD Trustee Dale Inman explained that he opposes the proposed $807 million, plus interest, bond proposal, because more than $440 million of it includes proposed expenditures which are not necessary capital improvements to increase the quality of the education Conroe ISD students receive.

There are many problems with the proposal for artificial turf which will cost taxpayers $23,146,160, plus interest, as part of the wasteful $807 million bond package.

The Arlington Independent School District and its artificial turf vendor have mired each other in litigation for several years in Tarrant County District Courts over turf failures, student injuries from artificial turf, and from the chemicals inside of it as well as from the heat it accumulates.

There are at least four major problems with the proposal to spend more than $23 million on artificial turf.

First, sports fields simply are not part of the basic product which Conroe ISD should provide. Apparently, the administrators of Conroe ISD and six of the seven Board members aren’t familiar with the fact that EDUCATION is the purpose of the school district. Empire-building, state-of-the-art sports facilities, spending other’s people’s money, and building giant administrative bureaucracies do not contribute to the real purpose of the school district. Remarkably, the proposed artificial turf even includes fields on which the band may play. The editorial staff of The Golden Hammer hereby expresses our excitement that a tuba will sound better on artificial turf apparently based upon the decision to invest of millions of tax dollars on “band field turf.”

A screen shot of part of the Conroe ISD’s presentation of its $807 million, plus, interest tax hike (bond package).

Second, even Conroe ISD already has a financial model for providing nice grassy fields on which children may play (sports or the French horn), which such model does not cost the beleaguered taxpayers. That financial model is happily known as “booster clubs.” Cindy Muth Gaskill, an education expert and a conservative activist, explained, “Did you know BOOSTER CLUBS, not taxpayers paid for grass, fertilizer, mowing at The Woodlands High School??? Not CISD. I saw this first hand. Taxpayers should not be paying for a one million dollar field that benefits 70 baseball players.”

Gaskill further explained, “At The Woodlands High School in 2018, the baseball booster club paid to have the field laser-leveled, and new grass was put down (even though the grass was already in very good condition). The booster club also paid for a $15,000 Turf Halo that goes around home plate. I was fundraising chair, so I happen to have this information. The booster club also paid for stadium seats, approximately $45,000.”

Third, and, perhaps most germane to the specific analysis of whether voters should pay for Conroe ISD’s foolhardy proposal for $23,146,160 of artificial turn as part of a tax increase, it turns out that artificial turf is actually significantly more costly than real grass for sports fields. Forbes magazine reported about several American studies on that subject in 2014, which concluded that artificial turf was almost twice as expensive over its projected 20-year-life-cycle as natural grass.

The most comprehensive study comparing the expense of artificial turf with the expense of natural grass, of course, came from the Government of Western Australia’s Department of Local Government, Sport, and Cultural Industries. The Australian study included analysis of the use of turf and grass for American football, cricket, hockey, lawn bowling, rugby, soccer, and tennis. (Could the real reason Conroe ISD is spending more than $23 million on artificial turf, so that Superintendent Curtis Null and Trustee Skeeter Hubert can engage in lawn bowling?!)

The Australian study contains a wealth of data comparing the expense of natural grass versus artificial turf. For every conceivable activity, natural grass is cheaper over 10, 20, 25, and 50 year use cycles.

Just imagine how exciting it will be when this photograph depicts the future appearance of College Park High School students who spend their academic days lawn bowling instead of wasting the days with their faces in nasty old books…Montgomery County will develop a reputation as the lawn bowling capital of the world!

The gist of the Australian government’s study on the turf versus grass question came in the following Chart:

Source: Government of Western Australia.

What the Australian study revealed is that net present value of artificial turf’s initial capital cost plus maintenance and other costs is approximately fifty percent (50%) higher than for every type of grass, even high-end Bermuda with a sand base.

Hopefully, voters will catch on to the folly of the $807 million, plus interest, bond proposal and force Null and Hubert to install their own private lawn bowling facilities in their homes.

Artificial turf often experiences mechanical failures.

Fourth, and clearly most importantly, it’s important that the Montgomery County community focus on doing what’s best FOR THE CHILDREN.

Artificial turf absorbs heat and often is too hot to play on in hot weather. On a 98-degree day, the temperature on the turf could rise to more than 120 degrees. A Brigham Young University study found that the surface temperature of synthetic turf at its football practice field was 37 degrees higher than the air temperature.

In 2017, Dr. Stuart Shalat, a Professor in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University, published a number of studies he’d done in which he identified both components of artificial turf and some of the chemicals used to treat it as carcinogens with clear pathways into the children who play on it.

Here’s an excerpt for Dr. Shalat’s article:

If you want to get a soccer mom’s attention, bring up the subject of artificial turf, the preferred playing surface for children from pre-K to college — preferred, at least, by school boards and parks and recreation departments.

With concerns about concussions and cancer, parents have become alarmed by reports in the media of increased injuries and illnesses.

And there is the further question of who is responsible for assuring the safety of these fields: The EPA? The CDC? The CPSC?

As an environmental health professor who has examined a variety of environmental problems and as a soccer dad who watched my son play on these fields for years, I think it’s worth examining the facts and myths about artificial-turf fields and what hazards may or may not be associated with playing on them. Based on studies I have reviewed and conducted, I believe there is a potential health risk because of the chemicals in tires, which are recycled into crumbs to support the plastic blades of synthetic grass.

Artificial turf is made up of three major parts:

1. Backing material that will serve to hold the individual blades of artificial grass.

2. The plastic blades themselves.

3. The infill, those tiny black crumbs, that helps support the blades.

Various pigments are used to provide the green color of the blades. These can include lead or titanium for the white lines and still other metals for school logos on the field.

Those little black crumbs are the problems. Tires can be toxic.

Modern tires are a mixture of natural and synthetic rubber, carbon black — a material made from petroleum — and somewhere between four and 10 gallons of petroleum products. They also contain metals, including cadmium, lead, which is neurotoxic, and zinc.

Some of the chemicals in tires, such as dibenzopyrenes, are known carcinogens.

Also, in addition to chemicals used in the manufacture of the tire, any chemical the tires were exposed to in their use can become absorbed on the carbon black in the tires.

It’s not just crumbs

Even though artificial turf does not have to be mowed, it turns out that crab grass and other weeds can start growing in it. To keep its finely manicured appearance, weedkillers need to be applied, a relatively common practice.

Unfortunately, a variety of health concerns have been linked to these products.

Also, artificial turf is often treated with biocides, as turf has been associated with increased risk of infections from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. MRSA is a dangerous infection because it is resistant to many antibiotics. It can lead to pneumonia, sepsis and bloodstream infections that can prove fatal. An MRSA infection can happen after skin is scraped or cut, which can occur from sliding on artificial turf.

Biocides, however, may have toxic effects of their own. And they may also contribute to increased resistance of bacteria to the efficacy of these agents.

Can particles get into kids?

The key question on exposure is: Do these chemicals get into children playing on these fields?

While it is true that the tire crumbs are large, it is easy to show that they don’t necessarily remain large over the life of the field. In a New Jersey study we employed a robot we call PIPER (Pretoddler Inhalable Particulate Environmental Robotic) to study if there were inhalable exposures from the artificial turf.

We showed the tiny particles from the turf can become suspended in air above the field and inhaled by children playing on the field. What has become apparent is that microscopic break off from the crumb rubber and are small enough to be inhalable. Additionally, the blades of grass can also break down into microscopic particles over years of exposure to sunlight and weather, forming a respirable dust.

How do these particles get into a child?

Think of the “Peanuts” comic strip character Pig Pen, the child always followed around by a visible cloud. The truth is that all children — indeed, all people — have a cloud of microscopic particles around them. This personal microenvironment of dust particles, invisible to the naked eye, is just as real as Pig Pen’s.

These small particles and their chemicals can be inhaled or swallowed by a child.

And if so, do they cause illness?

A clear answer on whether artificial turf increases the risk of injury or illness is far more challenging. Let’s consider the two major concerns with regard to artificial turf: cancer and neurologic effects.

The question of cancer and artificial turf gained significant national attention in the United States with a series of news stories on “NBC Nightly News” regarding a cluster of cancers in young women soccer players. A cancer cluster is the appearance of an unusually high rate of cancer in one location in a particular time frame. The story was dismissed by the turf industry, which has said the playing surface is safe.

But information has continued to accrue on this cancer cluster. While as many as 80 percent of suspected cancer clusters are determined not to be true increases in cancer cases and due only to random chance, the problem is that, without detailed and often expensive scientific investigation, whether it is real or not cannot be determined.

Just recently, the Washington State Department of Health issued a report on its study of the reported cancer cluster in these soccer players. Their report found no evidence of a causal effect of playing on artificial turf and cancer. As they acknowledge, that does not mean there is no risk, only that this study did not find one. They also suggested there is still room for broader investigation on this question.

In the meantime, though, there is little question in the mind of many scientists that crumb rubber should not be a first-choice material for children to play on. Parents should be able to just enjoy watching their children playing sports and not worry that they are being put unnecessarily at risk.



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