County staff says crumb rubber alternatives for turf fields more expensive
However, the lowest bidder will likely be a contractor bidding on installing the potentially harmful and cancer causing crumb rubber infill (CRI) that supervisors and Loudoun County Public Schools have spent the last year debating whether to use for county fields.
On Feb. 23, supervisors voted 5-3-1 to “support using the lowest responsible and responsive bid response that complies with required performance standards when considering awards for the construction of synthetic turf fields."
The action also directs county staff to work with LCPS staff to develop "a common set of synthetic turf field specifications that will make it easier for alternate infill materials to be bid."
Supervisors Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) and Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) opposed the motion, and Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) off the dais.
The board’s decision came after they directed county staff last month to analyze a report by the Washington Department of Health that found CRI does not cause cancer.
County staff said they read the report and generally agreed with its findings. They also found that using other alternatives to CRI would be more expensive to use.
“We have a material that has potentially cancer causing components, but there’s no evidence that it actually causes any cancer,” Loudoun Health Department Director Dr. David Goodfriend said.
When supervisors realized the cheapest turf material would likely be CRI, they discovered the motion would essentially mean the lowest bidder would likely be for crumb rubber.
“I think if the board wanted us to continue looking at alternative materials to crumb rubber that there should probably be an amendment to the motion to tell us to continue to solicit alternative bids or have an alternative specification, a material other than crumb rubber," County Administrator Tim Hemstreet said. "Otherwise, I believe the motion would direct us towards the lowest cost, which would likely be crumb rubber.”
Before staff conducted the study, supervisors and county staff had been looking into two alternatives to CRI commonly used in Europe -- Thermoplastic Elastomers and Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer.
Staff found that, compared to crumb rubber, TPE would have cost anywhere from $2.50 to $4 higher per square foot compared to CRI; $4 higher per square foot to use EPDM; and $4.17 higher per square foot to use coated silica sand.
Staff also noted TPE would have needed to be replaced about every 12 years, more costly to install and was still new to the market, therefore making it hard to verify the manufacturer’s claims.
In total, staff said TPE cost would anywhere from $200,000 to $325,000 more than CRI.
“Based upon those aspects and the findings from the Washington state study … staff is recommending that we move forward with using the lowest responsible bid response that complies with the required performance standards when considering awards for construction of synthetic turf fields,” Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Steve Torpy said.
Several supervisors agreed that, with inconclusive results, they should move forward with the cheapest material until more conclusive evidence on the health risks of using the potentially harmful material are found.
Staff noted a federal study on CRI was still in the works, although likely to not yield results for the next several years.
“If you have a legitimate reason that TPE or something else is a better material, safer, faster more healthy, then fine,” Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) said. “But until we have some evidence that it is in fact a better material, that it lasts longer and it’s safer, then we’re just throwing money away.”
According to the county, LCPS has an existing inventory of 15 CRI fields. Meanwhile, there are four high schools that do not have synthetic turf fields.
The county anticipates another two turf fields at Hal and Berni Hanson Regional Park and possibly two fields at the Potomac Lakes Sportsplex.
Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) reminded the board that the total number of fields that would need to be built and replaced over time was 27. He said using TPE would burden the county financially.
“If you look at the remaining number of fields to be built and the ones that need [to be] replaced, it’s 27 fields … that’s $7 million to the county,” Buona said. “We can try the TPE field like Supervisor Letourneau suggested, but it’s going to take 12 to 15 years to get any useful data.”
In the end, supervisors agreed to compromise.
The board voted unanimously with Meyer off the dais to direct staff to “explore” implementing a CRI field at Hal and Berni Hanson Regional Park. They also asked staff to come back to show them the cost difference on the request.
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