Mt. Lebanon commission hears tales of two turfs

Published Feb 25, 2014 at 8:59 am (Updated Feb 25, 2014 at 8:59 am)

Mt. Lebanon would step into cutting-edge territory by using organic infill for its showcase field enhancement project – though that may not necessarily be a good thing.

James Sauer, president of landscape architecture firm J.T. Sauer and Associates, voiced skepticism regarding organic infill at the Feb. 24 commission meeting. He said organic infill tends to be more expensive because of uncertainties associated with the materials.

“There are a lot of different organic products and it is unknown how long some of these materials will last. By nature, organic infill is biodegradable. Out in California, there was a field where in two years the organic infill turned to dust. Vendors tend not to like it because the field space is so cutthroat. They don’t want to do a field a competitor can potentially point to and say ‘look how ugly that turned out.’”

Sauer emphasized the importance of including clauses in the design specifications to protect the municipality from unexpected replacement costs.

The commission continues to prefer organic infill due to health and environmental concerns. One type of artificial fill uses rubber “crumbs” made from old tires. Studies of potential health risks resulting from exposure to this material have reached mixed conclusions.

A 2008 New Jersey Department of Health study found this fill to contain potentially harmful levels of lead. However, it also stated that the material would not pose a public health risk until turf fibers degraded to dust, or if athletes ingested individual rubber pellets.

Other studies have given artificial turf clean bills of health.

A 2008 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) survey of a handful of fields and playgrounds did not find potentially harmful levels of lead. But the EPA also stopped short of drawing any broader conclusions, citing limited data.

At the Feb. 24 meeting, Sauer said a zinc filter could be used to ensure no metal residue washed off the field surface into local streams. He also reassured commissioners that storm water runoff would filter off turfed fields slowly, so as not to cause flooding. This would be accomplished partly through the installation of a special trench system that would catch and hold storm water.

“Nothing is maintenance free,” Sauer said. “But what we’re seeing from the municipal up through the collegiate sports level and beyond is that grass fields with a continuous use cycle just don’t survive.”

Ultimately the commission directed Gateway Engineering to proceed with the design process.

Commissioners hope to hold at least one public information session regarding the turf project before the end of April. According to the current schedule, the commission would finalize the design in April and bid the project in June.

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