Column: Emerging from the Polar Vortex

Column: Emerging from the Polar Vortex

Spring is here; time to dig in and preserve the local environment.

It seems like such a short time ago that the words “polar” and “climate change” prompted only images of iconic polar bears searching for the last melting Arctic ice floes. Few of us had even heard of “polar vortexes” and their impacts on the Potomac Subregion, but we have all learned rapidly about this other, more local, effect of climate change. Now, finally, the daffodils are budding up and it appears the long winter is over.

Spring in the Washington area. What amazing natural treasures and beauty surround us — multiple kaleidoscopes of colors, textures, sounds and smells. Time to get outside and enjoy every minute we can before the heat and humidity of summer arrive. Also, time for all of us to dig in — literally — to do what we can to preserve and expand this priceless environmental base whether in our own yards or the wider community. Artificial turf, hazardous to human health and the environment, clearly should not be on any “to do” list. But there are so many other individual actions that, taken together, can have a dramatic impact. Here are just a few of our suggestions:

  • Angry and dismayed about Pepco’s tree slaughter, watered down forest conservation measures, and the new, largely ineffectual, tree canopy statute? Plant more, bigger, diverse canopy trees. Protect areas from deer browse to promote forest regeneration.
  • Appalled at the degradation of local streams necessitating WSSC’s massive Mid-River Intake Project? Have concerns about the effectiveness of the pesticide legislation currently pending before the County Council? Ensure that nothing detrimental, including chemicals and sediment, ever runs off your property. Participate in storm water management, water quality monitoring, and stream clean up and restoration projects. Call the County when you see activities that are causing run off from any property.
  • Dismayed about tropical rain forest destruction and declining bird and amphibian populations? Replace your manicured/high-maintenance lawn with wildlife friendly plants and water features and make it a net gain, not a loss, for biological diversity. * * * Appalled at climate deniers? Reduce your own carbon footprint. Compost your yard waste in the back of the property instead of having it hauled away. Use your own leaves and wood chips for mulch, not plastic bags of chips from trees cut and shipped from hundreds of miles away. Walk and chat with your neighbors…and enjoy knowing we all appreciate and benefit from your efforts.

“…and the soil under the grass is dreaming of a young forest,

and under the pavement the soil is dreaming of grass.”

— Wendell Berry, “Given”


By Carol Van Dam Falk:

The Chairman of the Maryland General Assembly’s Health and Government Operations (HGO) Committee is scheduled to meet with Dr. Clifford Mitchell, Director of the Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene, as this newsletter goes to print. They will be discussing the idea of installing warning signs at all artificial turf playing fields and/or another proposal to test the fields for lead. During recent testimony before the Maryland General Assembly on House Bill (HB) 897, it was revealed by the synthetic turf industry that tire crumb contains lead. HB897 would require posting warning signs at AT fields.

It is important to remember that if they do test for lead and do not find it, that does not mean the fields are safe. There are many toxic compounds known to be an integral part of tire crumb and a smaller number of toxic compounds in the plastic carpet underneath the tire crumb, which sometimes include lead but not always. It is unclear how this testing would be carried out, since there is no standardization, regulation, or monitoring of harmful compounds in tire crumb, a main ingredient in artificial turf.

The Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition helped draft the proposed legislation and is working with HB897 co-sponsor District 15 State Delegate Aruna Miller to locate experts and facilities which could properly carry out those tests.

As for the status of HB897, members of the HGO Committee have yet to schedule a vote on it, and there is a good chance it will not be voted out of committee for action by the full Maryland House or Senate this year, but we consider it progress that the HGO Committee is pursuing testing of different aged AT fields for lead.

The EPA has said that more testing needs to be done on AT, but has not conducted those tests.

House Bill 897 Summary:

The required sign must state the following:

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encourages all those using synthetic infill turf fields to observe the following recommendations:

Wash hands and exposed body parts aggressively after playing on field.

Turn clothes inside out as soon as possible after using the field to avoid tracking dust and infill to other locations.

Keep beverages closed and in bags or coolers when not drinking to minimize contamination from field dust and fibers.

Be aware of signs of heat-related illness and dehydration. Fields can get excessively hot on warm, sunny days. Take all necessary precautions.”

The current law does not require the posting of any safety recommendations specific to synthetic infill turf fields.

WMCCA Meeting

The next meeting of the West Montomery County Citizens Association will be held Wednesday, April 8, 7:15 p.m. at the Potomac Community Center. Speakers will be Gail Dalferes and Bailey Condrey of Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition. Awareness of the hazards to human health and the environment caused by artificial turf (AT) playing fields continues to grow.

The Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition was formed by citizens right here in Montgomery County, including WMCCA, who were alarmed by the installation of AT playing fields throughout the County. They have undertaken a series of very effective actions to ensure that sound science is employed in identifying and eliminating health and environmental risks related to AT. They have become leaders in efforts not just in Maryland, but nationwide, to limit or ban the use of AT for playing fields.

Gail Dalferes and Bailey Condrey, along with WMCCA Board Member Carol Van Dam Falk and others, founded the Coalition. They will speak on the health, environmental, and financial risks of installing AT on Montgomery County playing fields. They will also talk about recent efforts made in the battle to stop the trend toward replacing natural fields with AT.

As always, the public is most welcome to attend our meetings. If schools are closed because of inclement weather, the meeting will be cancelled.