RANCHO SANTA FE — The Rancho Santa Fe School District reached out to the San Diego County Office of Education after parents Amanda and Ali Shapouri presented the district with a lab report, which questioned the safety and health concerns of artificial turf at the school campus.
The San Diego County Office of Education brought on Ninyo & Moore, a professional geotechnical and environmental sciences consulting firm. The company cited how it performed its own evaluation of synthetic turf located at the R. Roger Rowe Middle School athletic field and also assessed its review of two prior sampling results.
Stephen Waide, principal environmental scientist at Ninyo & Moore, provided a step-by-step process on how they arrived at their own conclusion at the May 12 meeting.
“At this time, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that you have a health hazard,” said Waide, addressing the school board.
While there were levels of lead detected primarily on the yellow striping areas of the field, the levels were considered on the lower spectrum. Waide utilized “wipe standards” and compared them with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) criteria for existence of lead in residences. These are considered one of the strictest standards.
Waide said there is a huge amount of data on lead exposure and what is considered potentially harmful. To date there is no standard for outdoor playing fields. So, what Ninyo & Moore did was take the most restrictive standard they could find which was floors in residences. They decided on this standard given the fact that babies crawl in their homes and naturally place items in their mouths.
According to HUD, the standard for passing a lead wipe test is 40 micrograms per square foot and under. When testing the yellow striping on the artificial turf at the R. Roger Rowe athletic field, those numbers calculated to 8.5 micrograms per square foot.
“That’s just about five times less than this really restrictive (HUD) number,” Waide said. “And HUD believes that this level (40) would be fine to send a family back in after our remediation.”
In the future, the artificial turf may get more than an 8.5 micrograms reading. Waide’s recommendation was to watch the field for any signs of distress or color fading.
He suggested sampling artificial turf swatches, particularly the yellow and blue striping areas and storing them in a box in a dark area.
“And once a year, I’d bring them out and put them right next to the representative color on the field and I’d take a picture of them. Then you’d have a year-by-year picture of how much this thing is degrading or fading and then you make some decision down the road when you want to look at this again.”
And the retesting could range from five to 10 years, he said.
Before Waide’s presentation, Ali Shapouri had made his own recommendation to the board: Swap out the artificial turf for natural grass. If that wasn’t possible, substitute the rubber crumb in the artificial turf with coconut husk or cork.
Following Waide’s presentation, Ali Shapouri shared his views on what he heard.
“It’s just incredible to me that we’re talking about the level of exposure [lead] to our kids versus clean, natural grass,” he said. He added, “I can’t understand why we’re even talking about what is the level of toxicity and what is the level of exposure to our children. That is outrageous to me.”
Amanda’s concerns stayed the same.
“If you go to the CDC website, it will tell you there that no level is safe,” she said, referring to lead levels.