Wayne Thompson is a NZ Herald reporter.

Turf fears spur toxin tests

Council to monitor run-off from reserve's artificial surface after school raises concerns

The Michaels Ave surface opens for play tomorrow. Photo / Dean Purcell
The Michaels Ave surface opens for play tomorrow. Photo / Dean Purcell

Auckland Council will test water running off a new artificial sports field after fears were raised that a layer made from recycled car tyres leached toxic chemicals.

The $2.1 million all-weather field opens for play at the council's Michaels Ave Reserve in the suburb of Ellerslie tomorrow.

The layer of crumb rubber is lower down in the artificial grass fibre of the perfect pitch - to control ball bounce and cushion feet.

But staff and parents of the school next door feared the layer would cause environmental and health problems.

The Michael Park Rudolf Steiner School showed an Australian report of alarm over the potential dangers of the fake grass and scientists' calls for its safety to be established.

Orakei Local Board chairwoman Desley Simpson said the only test information the council had offered was based on overseas work.

"We had a very strong kickback from our community with the ethos of organic health that we were putting something artificial in that was having [an] effect on our kids.

"The health and well-being of our community is paramount and we had to prove it was not toxic or harmful."

She said that before the pitch was installed, the board asked for air quality tests over the Parrs Park artificial pitch in West Auckland, which was built two years ago. "We have done this testing and are using it as local proof that it works safely."

But she said the effect of water draining from the pitch on a wetland and downstream catchment was a concern. The water quality would be monitored for two years to see if there was any breakdown in the rubber.

The testing is costing $40,000.

A turf industry source told the Herald testing the Auckland pitch was unnecessary. "It's only rain water coming off and it is well filtered by layers below. It will be cleaner than that draining off the road with the motor oil in it."

The Michaels Ave Reserve pitch is made by Tiger Turf New Zealand.

General manager Peter Leeves said the company relied on its sister companies and associates overseas that there was no safety concern about the NZ-made crumb rubber.

He did not disagree with the council doing its own research to satisfy itself because it was spending a lot of money on 37 artificial turf fields in 10 years. But in the United States this year 1300 fields were being installed, and in Europe 4000.

Both regions had strict standards.

- NZ Herald

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