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NLS discusses health risks of synthetic turf

Carolyn Lange / Tribune file photo The New London-Spicer School Board is considering replacing their turf football field with a synthetic turf.

NEW LONDON — Concerns about potential health risks of synthetic turf were discussed Monday by the New London-Spicer School Board.

The board is considering installing turf in the district's high school football field to make the limited-use grass field available for physical education classes and additional sports practices and games.

Armed with copies of articles and documents on the topic, board member Naomi Johnson said her research indicates chemicals, including lead and mercury in some synthetic turfs, could be dangerous for youth.

She said the national controversy about health implications and links to cancer with synthetic turf are not over, and NLS needs to take a close look at research before making a decision.

"There are no safe lead levels, yet we're going to roll our kids through it?" Johnson said.

Superintendent Paul Carlson said it's important to talk to manufacturers to "make sure we know what's in the turf," but he said past concerns and dated articles were based on turfs that used crumbled rubber from tires made with chemicals that are no longer used with synthetic turf.

Athletic Director John Vraa said all the recent high school football tournaments were played on synthetic turf and he doubts the safety-conscious State High School League would allow that to happen if there was a threat to student health.

Vraa also said he doubts professional sports teams would let their multimillion-dollar athletes play on synthetic turf if there were health implications.

Vraa said it's important to take the studies seriously and to be "mindful" of health risks of synthetic turf, but he said other sports equipment, such as wrestling mats, could also pose problems, but there has been a certain comfort level that allows activities to go forward.

Johnson said some states have put a moratorium on installing synthetic turf and other states are still studying them.

Since so many Minnesota schools have synthetic turf — or are considering adding it — Carlson said the Minnesota Department of Health should weigh in on the health issue.

Board member David Kilpatrick said it's difficult to find unbiased research and articles regarding synthetic and natural grass turf.

He said there are also health risks with grass fields from the use of chemical herbicides and fertilizer.

Meanwhile, the board was informed that the sports booster club has agreed to donate $60,000 toward the synthetic turf project.

If the project is approved, the donation would likely be enough to cover the first-year payment and the board could opt to delay issuing a lease levy until 2018.

The board is expected to take action on the turf project, and the final payable 2017 levy, at its meeting Dec. 12.

The listening session begins at 4:30 p.m. and the meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. The truth-in-taxation hearing begins at 6 p.m.

In other action, following a closed meeting Monday, the board voted to direct the school administration to terminate a special education paraprofessional, who is currently on non-disciplinary paid administrative leave.

The action was taken following an investigation of allegations made against the individual, who can file a grievance under the district's master agreement.

There were no details provided regarding the nature of the allegations.

Final action is expected at the next meeting.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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