In December, the New Haven City Plan Commission approved Yale’s proposal to put a synthetic turf field, infilled with ground-up rubber, into the Yale Bowl. There were many reasons for the commissioners to turn the application down — but they didn’t.
First of all, the Yale Bowl is not only on the National Register of Historic Places — it is even a step above that, it is also a Designated National Landmark. As such, allowing the Yale Bowl’s surface to be covered with plastic is hardly in keeping with those important designations.
Secondly, and probably more importantly, Yale’s proposal included putting down acres of plastic infilled with a rubber product called EPDM. EPDM stands for ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber. This product is a synthetic rubber, and just like the waste tires that make up crumb rubber infill, EPDM contains harmful chemicals as well as carbon black. Both EPDM rubber and waste tire crumb rubber contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals that pose a health threat to the students who play on it.
The Material Safety Data Sheet for EPDM says the product is a “Possible Cancer Hazard” — and can be an irritant to lungs, eyes and skin. The International Agency for Research on Cancer also points out that carbon black, which is contained in EPDM, is possibly carcinogenic to humans, and that short-term exposure to high concentration of carbon black dust is a respiratory irritant.
EPDM rubber has never been proven safe for children and students to play on. This product was not designed to be put where students play. EPDM was meant for roofing, hoses, cable joints, car hoses and vehicle sealants.
Yale has installed two other synthetic turf fields. Both fields are infilled with waste tire crumb rubber. Today, we know a lot about the health hazards of crumb rubber. A study, actually done at Yale University shows that crumb rubber contains 96 chemicals, some of which have been tested and some have not. Of those chemicals in the crumb rubber that have been tested, 11 are carcinogens and 20 are irritants — many of the 20 irritants are respiratory irritants. With asthma rates as high as they are, this is also poses a health problem.
Yale cannot be oblivious to the dangers that they are exposing their students to. There has been much written about these hazards. Even the federal government has been charged with exploring these dangers.
Thirdly, Yale’s own Sustainability Plan 2025 commits Yale to “Healthy Planet, Healthy People.” It goes on to say, “From campus buildings and grounds to transportation, food, and energy, our activities to enhance the environment also offer opportunities to improve the health and well-being of individuals on campus, in the community, and throughout the world. … By looking for co-benefits in our sustainability actions — strategies that provide both environmental and social or health benefits — we can ensure we are being responsible citizens of our campus and our broader community.”
How does installing acres of plastic around the campus, infilled with toxic rubber products that are carcinogenic, comply with Yale’s own Sustainability Plan?
If Yale is not attentive to the health and well being of their athletes, who will be? Who will take responsibility for these irresponsible decisions? Some of Yale’s own physicians have asked Yale to stop putting their students on these fields, as they worry about the long-term health hazards these fields could pose.
Yale should not install any more plastic fields with toxic infills. There is no safer surface for students to play on than natural grass. Our country’s professional football players say the same thing — over 50 percent of professional football fields have removed their synthetic turf fields and installed natural grass.
The Yale Bowl and Yale students deserve better than plastic grass and toxic infills.
Nancy Alderman ’94 FES ’97