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To dome or not to dome, that is the question

February 19th, 2015 · No Comments

By Terri Chu

Turf is as troubling as the toxins now in the soil, the Central Technical School (CTS) dome is a hotly contested issue in this area. I’ve met nearly as many people who support the dome as oppose it. The student body no doubt would like to see the stand-off end. There’s a lot of confusion and many opposing interests at play.

Living just up the street from the CTS, I obviously would prefer to see what little green space we have left preserved as much for personal as for environmental reasons (heat island effect, environmental contamination), but I also want to acknowledge the importance of returning a field to the students at CTS. Their welfare should come first, hands down.

Time has flown since I moved into the Annex, but I’m also no longer a student. In the time I’ve lived here, what seems like a blink of an eye is nearly two generations of high school students.

Imagine spending your entire high school career without a viable sporting facility. This is unacceptable, and without question, I support a speedy resolution. Their best interests should come first.

What is questionable, however, is whether or not a dome is really in their long-term best interest.

Field toxicity

The current field is contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) among other toxins from a bygone era. According to the United States Evironmental Protection Agency, “PAHs are found naturally in the environment but they can also be man-made.

In their purest form, PAHs are solid and range in appearance from colorless to white or pale yellow-green. PAHs are created when products like coal, oil, gas, and garbage are burned, but the burning process is not complete.”

I’ve heard several theories and yet none are quite consistent with the contamination patterns of the soil report.

Either way, what is not disputed is that the PAHs exist.

What is disputed, however, is the health risk. Generations of students have come and gone.

Without a study on alumni, it’s impossible to tell whether or not they have higher rates of cancer or other ailments compared with the general population.

Under an abundance of caution, however, the field has been closed off to all uses.

Remediation options

There are several remediation options available to the TDSB. One is to remove the top layer (about six inches) of soil and replace it with fresh soil. This option is light on a capital budget, but will require a fair bit of annual expenditure as the field will need continual monitoring to ensure the toxins don’t seep upward. Another option is to dig deeper and replace about a metre and a half of the soil. This is much more expensive but will create a permanent solution. Option three is to farm the problem out to a third party and allow an operator to resurface the field with artificial turf and put a dome over it during winter months.

There are undoubted advantages and disadvantages to all options. The idea for an option four was floated at one point to allow a third party to use the field for geothermal storage (specifically the Honest Ed’s redevelopment). While great on paper, I realize the long time frame is unfair to the students who are swiftly moving through the prime of their lives.

Option three, artificial turf, is the one preferred by the TDSB for several reasons.

This allows the students to have a field to play on in the shortest time frame and it requires no capital expenditure from the school board (note: the City and private donors have stepped up to the plate with some capital funds). Having worked on projects for public institutions and seen firsthand the short-sightedness that separating capital from operating and maintenance budgets creates, I will leave this rant for another time.

As I picture the field with artificial turf, my right brain gushes “oooh, pretty field” while my left brain is churning at about the speed of a Commodore 64 trying to reconcile fixing a toxicity problem with an even more toxic solution.

 

Turf toxins

Scientists in Italy studied the air contamination of Astroturf fields in 2011 while players were actively engaged in sport. This is the time when lungs are most active and air is breathed in most deeply.

As players swept across the fields, they would disturb the turf causing it to release chemicals. The study showed an increase in toxins in the air about two orders of magnitude of greenfield benchmarks.

What this means for human health remains unknown but certainly, compared to a field with below ground contamination, Astroturf would seem to make little sense as an alternative. Italy has taken emergency remediation measures on existing artificial turf sites because of human health risks.

A U.S. study found that football players suffered injuries 40% more often while playing on artificial turf than on grass fields. There’s a reason female world cup soccer players are protesting having to play on artificial turf while their male counterparts get grass.

Professionals the world over are now shunning artificial turf. Our own Skydome (now the Rogers Centre) stands as a monument to a $500-million mistake at the end of the turf era.

Going back to the best interests of the students at CTS, while on the surface giving them a field with four extra months of sports and training seems like a great idea, we have to understand that this trade-off comes at the cost of exposing them to additional toxins.

Is the trade-off worth the risk? I’m not convinced it is but ultimately the administrators, teachers, and parents need to think through the long-term health risks as well as the liability of increased injuries.

While I was researching this issue and taking in all the uncertainties of under-studied technologies (such as artificial turf), someone pointed out that many other schools, universities, and professional sporting organizations already use artificial turf. Did I really believe that Health Canada would be so reckless as to endanger our lives and continue to allow the use of substances that are harmful?? Not really knowing the best way to answer that question, I simply said, “We took 70 years to get lead out of gasoline.” (Side note: it is still in use in aviation gas as an anti-knocking agent.)

So do we want to be proactive or reactive on this issue? The dome seems to me an issue of being penny-wise and pound foolish.

Terri Chu is an engineer committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy use, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths. Send questions, comments, and ideas for future columns to Terri at terri.chu@ whyshouldicare.ca.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remediation

options

There are several remediation options available to the TDSB. One is to remove the top layer (about six inches) of soil and replace it with fresh soil. This option is light on a capital budget, but will require a fair bit of annual expenditure as the field will need continual monitoring to ensure the toxins don’t seep upward. Another option is to dig deeper and replace about a metre and a half of the soil. This is much more expensive but will create a permanent solution. Option three is to farm the problem out to a third party and allow an operator to resurface the field with artificial turf and put a dome over it during winter months.

There are undoubted advantages and disadvantages to all options. The idea for an option four was floated at one point to allow a third party to use the field for geothermal storage (specifically the Honest Ed’s redevelopment). While great on paper, I realize the long time frame is unfair to the students who are swiftly moving through the prime of their lives.

Option three, artificial turf, is the one preferred by the TDSB for several reasons.

This allows the students to have a field to play on in the shortest time frame and it requires no capital expenditure from the school board (note: the City and private donors have stepped up to the plate with some capital funds). Having worked on projects for public institutions and seen firsthand the short-sightedness that separating capital from operating and maintenance budgets creates, I will leave this rant for another time.

As I picture the field with artificial turf, my right brain gushes “oooh, pretty field” while my left brain is churning at about the speed of a Commodore 64 trying to reconcile fixing a toxicity problem with an even more toxic solution.

 

Turf toxins

Scientists in Italy studied the air contamination of Astroturf fields in 2011 while players were actively engaged in sport. This is the time when lungs are most active and air is breathed in most deeply.

As players swept across the fields, they would disturb the turf causing it to release chemicals. The study showed an increase in toxins in the air about two orders of magnitude of greenfield benchmarks.

What this means for human health remains unknown but certainly, compared to a field with below ground contamination, Astroturf would seem to make little sense as an alternative. Italy has taken emergency remediation measures on existing artificial turf sites because of human health risks.

A U.S. study found that football players suffered injuries 40% more often while playing on artificial turf than on grass fields. There’s a reason female world cup soccer players are protesting having to play on artificial turf while their male counterparts get grass.

Professionals the world over are now shunning artificial turf. Our own Skydome (now the Rogers Centre) stands as a monument to a $500-million mistake at the end of the turf era.

Going back to the best interests of the students at CTS, while on the surface giving them a field with four extra months of sports and training seems like a great idea, we have to understand that this trade-off comes at the cost of exposing them to additional toxins.

Is the trade-off worth the risk? I’m not convinced it is but ultimately the administrators, teachers, and parents need to think through the long-term health risks as well as the liability of increased injuries.

While I was researching this issue and taking in all the uncertainties of under-studied technologies (such as artificial turf), someone pointed out that many other schools, universities, and professional sporting organizations already use artificial turf. Did I really believe that Health Canada would be so reckless as to endanger our lives and continue to allow the use of substances that are harmful?? Not really knowing the best way to answer that question, I simply said, “We took 70 years to get lead out of gasoline.” (Side note: it is still in use in aviation gas as an anti-knocking agent.)

So do we want to be proactive or reactive on this issue? The dome seems to me an issue of being penny-wise and pound foolish.

Terri Chu is an engineer committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy use, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths. Send questions, comments, and ideas for future columns to Terri at terri.chu@ whyshouldicare.ca.

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