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Sports and a Sustainable Future

2012 September 7

By Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe

With football season starting back up and baseball playoffs around the corner, this is one of my favorite times of the year – and I know many Americans share my excitement.

I am a sports enthusiast. But I am also an environmentalist. Today more than ever, these two passions of mine seem to go hand-in-hand. For the past few years, a number of sports teams, venues and leagues have come forward and expressed interest in greener, cost-saving ways of doing business. These improvements will ensure that, as each pitch is thrown, each goal is scored and each car completes another lap on the racetrack, we’re doing more to conserve resources, clean up our environment and protect the health of our communities.

Green Sports Alliance Board of Directors Chairman and Seattle Mariners Vice President of Ballpark Operations Scott Jenkins and U.S. EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe sign the memorandum of understanding.

Green Sports Alliance Board of Directors Chairman and Seattle Mariners Vice President of Ballpark Operations Scott Jenkins and U.S. EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe sign the memorandum of understanding.

Yesterday I joined representatives from the Green Sports Alliance, an organization that represents over 100 teams and venues from 13 different leagues, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at the Alliance’s second annual Summit in Seattle, WA.

The agreement we signed seeks to build upon our current outreach and sustainability efforts, and it strengthens the partnerships we have with the Alliance so our work can be as far-reaching as possible. It will help ensure that America’s sports teams and venues have the tracking and reporting tools and technical expertise they need to address environmental challenges like waste management, water conservation and pollution. It will also help with the effort to make sports venues’ energy use more efficient – specifically through EPA’s Energy Star program. This year our annual Energy Star National Building Competition has attracted five new sports venues.  That’s good news for teams, for the environment and for local communities: Last year’s competition resulted in $5.2 million of utility bill savings and prevented nearly 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering our atmosphere – about the same amount of emissions that come from more than 3,600 homes each year.

Teams, stadiums, and venues across the country are already taking significant steps to increase sustainability and protect our environment. The Philadelphia Eagles are preparing for on-site wind and solar generation at Lincoln Financial Field. The National Hockey League became the first league to join EPA’s Green Power Partnership, offsetting 100 percent of its post-season electricity consumption through its green power commitments. These are just two of dozens of examples of how the sports industry has been discovering cost-effective ways to reduce their environmental footprint and engage fans in bringing about a cleaner, healthier future for our communities.

The best news about all of this work is that it has the potential to reach far beyond the stadiums, the fields and the courts. From little league baseball to the majors, from Pop Warner football to the NFL, Americans share a great love for sports. Our favorite teams are not only important to us; they also have the ability to be influential in raising awareness among their fans and setting positive examples when it comes to sustainability.

For all of these reasons, I’m very proud of EPA’s work with the Green Sports Alliance, and I look forward to seeing where our partnership will take us in seasons to come.

About the author: Bob Perciasepe is the Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. Amy Stephan permalink
    September 7, 2012

    The EPA needs to revisit its 2009 Scoping Study on safety of tire crumb based turf fields, which was based on industry self testing… and therefore, of course showed nothing harmful. Not finding toxicity is pretty darn easy when you choose your own testing methodology!

    Sort of like if I took a flashlight, looked down your throat and said, “I see no tumors nor anything alarming. All is well.” That partial information cannot not be construed to prove health, or safety. In the case of the tire crumb based turf fields, a similar thing happened. The study authors even list the limitations of the study, yet, absent alarming data the EPA allowed fields to be built.

    In fact, the tire crumb fields are likely the most concentrated, contaminated microenvironments that our kids, or any of us, will ever face. Our study team think they are more dangerous than asbestos. They are loaded with carbon black in small particulate (from shredded tire crumb), which adsorbs onto the surface of the 24 harmful gases that yield from tire crumb. These gas/particulate mixtures are 10-20 times more harmful than the materials alone, and because the carbon black is attached to gas, presents a deep lung vector for carcinogenic exposures. We know from air pollution studies that the exposures are irreversible, and cause pulmonary, brain, heart and kidney disease. Air pollution rates of exposure are likely much more dilute than being on the surface of 350,000 tons of shredded tires. The tire crumb superheats because of its high surface area and material characteristics (Penn State Heat Study shows that 165F surface temp is routine at about 85F ambient temp) so at increasing levels of heat, the tires are expected to yield increasing levels of material. So, in addition to heat injuries, the kids get higher and higher toxic exposures as the fields heat up. Those gas/particle mixtures probably don’t just vanish. The fields yield tons of plastic small particulate also, including phthalates, BPA, benzothiazoles, and plasticizers. Adjacent schools, buildings or neighborhoods likely receive big doses of the chemistry. From the water pathway, the fields yield heavy metals like lead, cadmium, mercury and zinc. The zinc levels alone are fatal to aquatic ecosystems, and like most metals, can be expected to bioaccumulate in plants and soils that surround the drainage of the fields. Incidentally, we estimate the field effluent to be around 2million gallons a year in the DC area for a small soccer field. And, amazingly, none of this is regulated, controlled, measured or in any way scrutinized, even though hundreds of thousands of children are on these fields each week. This is clearly a case of an aggressive industry getting ahead of toxicology understanding, and our kids will be the victims.

    As a toxicologist who conducted primary study on these fields explained, “In 2, 5 or 10 years if some of these kids get brain disease, or cancer, we will not possibly be able to link them to the fields because we are not doing monitoring. However, we will know absolutely that the fields had all the ingredients to cause these diseases.” A very troubling perspective, and in our estimation, far more important than the need to respond to sports teams who push for the fields, unaware of their danger to children.

    The omission of this type of scrutiny is inexcusable, and the Scoping Study needs to be re-addressed, or simply replaced with peer reviewed, independent studies from toxicologists and true health professionals who do not stand to benefit from the ever growing tire crumb field industry. Do your job, EPA, for goddsakes.

    If you want to do some good and create real win-win solutions, then demand more accurate information from those who are actual scientists and health professionals. Don’t ever argue that the needs of a waste industry outweigh our need to protect our kids from harm. They face far too many toxicity issues in their collective future without introducing such a profoundly contaminated product into their lives.

    For my kids who have spent the last 9 years on turf fields, it is probably too late. You can change that for the kids who are next at bat, who are next to play. It will take some determination… the kind we learn on a sports field.

    Amy Stephan, The Safe and Healthy Fields Coalition

  2. permalink
    September 7, 2012

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  3. Led Sign permalink
    September 7, 2012

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  4. Bailey Condrey permalink
    September 11, 2012

    As Mr. Perciasepe states, “we’re doing more to conserve resources, clean up our environment and protect the health of our communities.” I have difficulty believing this when plastics and crumb rubber sports fields are proliferating across the country. Professional baseball has already stopped using this product for many serious reasons, but yet we’ve adopted policies that place these toxic playing surfaces under the feet of the most susceptible – young athletes. Offgassing from the field’s hazardous ingredients also affect the health of neighboring communities, but this is completely forgotten in the sales pitch about high playability.

    I play on these fields and have been for roughly the last decade. To state it simply, they suck. They get unbearably hot (160 degrees F) on sunny, hot days. Your feet blister unless you wear three (3) pairs of socks. They are breaking down well ahead of the guaranteed life-spans. The crumb rubber and plastic grass blade shards are migrating into storm water drains, not to mention, that this debris follows you everywhere as it adheres to your sports equipment and clothing. It winds up in your car, your underwear and your home. If you fall on a snythetic turf field on a hot day, you are covered with plastic, crumb rubber, and carbon black. I’m pretty sure that hundreds of scientific studies have identified the toxic nature of carbon black (soot). The EPA is trying to reduce the level of soot in the atmosphere from power plants. So why is it okay to place it under the feet of young athletes and expose them to the adsorption of soot onto hydrocarbons offgassing from the plastics?

    We have been fed a false choice – plastic, crumb rubber and carbon black or natural grass fields. Because only synthetic turf can stand up to the level of play that modern athletic leagues require. Hogwash! The level of investment in organic, natural grass fields pales in comparison to the million dollars per field being handed over by taxpayers for these toxic pitches.

    We face declining fertility rates, increased auto-immune diseases, increased levels of knee, ankle and lower back injuries among the young and the drumbeat to build more synthetic turf fields only grows louder. On what planet does this amount to cleaning up our environment and improving the health of our communities?

    The constituents of synthetic turf fields need to be studied independently by third-party scientific testing companies. Where it has been done, elevated levels of lead have been found in synthetic turf fields. Let’s quit kidding ourselves about the safety of synthetic turf. Let’s get back to basics and invest in planting grass rather than laying plastic rugs on compacted rock.


    Bailey Condrey

  5. Ronin Athletics permalink
    April 6, 2013

    Sport is the future. The govern should put more sport in practice for ours kids.

  6. Janabes permalink
    December 28, 2013

    Nice post,,, i like your post… :D

  7. John permalink
    March 3, 2014

    Nice Blog!!!

  8. Habib Faruk Himel permalink
    March 22, 2014

    I agree with Ronin Athletics, sports should be implemented in all schools for the better future of the youth. They don’t just develop the physical attributes of every person but so is their mental awareness and discipline. I hope the FIFA world cup 2014 would also have an environment friendly event. It will be streaming live and although I will be watching it from the computer, I still hope the event would be kind to mother Earth.

  9. Ochena Bikel permalink
    March 29, 2014

    A healthy environment makes all players on the field play better especially football and soccer players. Speaking of soccer, would be streaming live HD of the 2014 FIFA world cup. It would be a very exciting June 12-July 13.

  10. Sheri permalink
    May 9, 2014

    As more and more sport teams and facilities go green it is important to find a good use for artificial turf. Artificial Grass Recyclers, a national company, is helping our environment and is re-purposing used turf. This keeps the turf out of overburdened landfills and it is being reused. This repurposing program has helped many organization be able to afford turf for their sports facilities that other wise could not. This program has all so lent to the donation of used turf to many organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club for there sports fields.

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