Press Release: After Less than 1 Year, Artificial Turf Field at DC Elementary School is Falling Apart — And It’s HOT!

August 16, 2018

Dr. Diana Zuckerman, President

–Washington, DC. Less than a year after the District government spent over $300,000 to replace the dangerously hard artificial turf field at Janney Elementary School in Tenleytown, community residents noticed that the field is already coming apart.  The plastic grass is not secured to the ground, exposing all the materials that are supposed to be under the surface.

“It looks like wall-to-wall carpeting that is no longer securely attached,” explained Dr. Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, a nonprofit think tank.  “When playing on a field, we don’t look at our feet at all times, so the problems we see in this artificial surface make it more likely that children and adults will trip and fall, breaking a bone or even having a concussion.  And of course, it means that children will also be more exposed to dangerous materials that were supposed to remain under the surface.”

In a letter (below) sent to the City Administrator Rashad Young, as well as Councilmembers Cheh and Grasso and other District officials, the group DC Safe Healthy Playing Fields noted that “the field appears to have shrunk significantly” and is “currently hitting temperatures up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit,” which is about 80 degrees warmer than nearby natural grass.  The recent death of a University of Maryland football player on an artificial turf practice field is a tragic reminder that heat caused by artificial turf playing fields can be deadly.

“Keep in mind that when the field was installed, parents were told that they were using Envirofill because it would have cooler temperatures than other artificial turf.  It obviously isn’t.  In fact, the exact materials used in Envirofill have not been publicly disclosed, despite our Center’s FOIA request” added Dr. Zuckerman.

Artificial turf is a controversial issue, and District officials have defended its use in public statements and a City Council hearing held in October.  Although there is currently a moratorium on new installations of artificial turf fields made with “tire crumb” because of its health risks, many District playing fields and playgrounds are made with the synthetic rubber that is used in tires, which contains carcinogens as well as hormone-disrupting chemicals that could exacerbate children’s obesity, attention deficit disorder, and early puberty.  In addition, the composition of materials used in new artificial turf fields in D.C. schools have not been made public. The Janney Field was installed with 56,250 pounds of a material called Envirofill, which is a tiny polymer material which resembles fish eggs and will wash into the waterways.  Details on this material, including heavy metal testing, has not been made available.


Letter to DC Officials

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: DC Safe Healthy Playing Fields <>
Date: Tue, Aug 14, 2018 at 2:45 PM
Subject: Urgent: Janney Synthetic Turf Field Issues
To:, “Smith, Ahnna (EOM)” <>,

Dear City Administrator Young, DME Smith, DGS Director Gillis, Mr. Breems, and Mr. Gonzalez,

We have time-sensitive concerns about the Janney synthetic turf field, which was installed in the fall of 2017.  This field appears unsafe for use, and calls for an immediate evaluation before school starts on Monday.

These are our observations:

  1. There are multiple seams and creases on the field.
  2. The plastic carpet has buckling, is uneven (warped), slides, shifts, and has bubbles. See image here.
  3. The edge of the synthetic turf system comes up along the entire side where the field is accessed, and is a trip hazard. See image here.
  4. The substructure is exposed.
  5. There is a considerable gap between the adjacent white top and the plastic field. The field appears to have shrunk significantly. See image here.
  6. The field is currently hitting temperatures up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. This field was touted, at installation, to have “cool” temperatures, and the synthetic turf task force committed to having a temperature policy by in place by early spring 2017.
  7. Materials that have not been disclosed to the public are being exposed, at extreme temperatures, to small children. (For example, glues.)  The safety data sheets for these materials have not been made available, in spite formal requests, including FOIA requests.


Before allowing children to use this field on Monday, it is essential that that a synthetic turf field consultant independent of the manufacturer, installer, and consultant who recommended these materials comes to do an evaluation and issues an evaluation, report, and signed assessment, to share with the public.  Because there were a few other fields (Adams, Eaton, and perhaps others) that were installed at this same time with similar materials, these fields should also be evaluated.

Since the safety of DCPS children is your highest priority, and since the field appears unsafe for use and there are foreseeable injuries that could be sustained, we know you will do everything possible to prevent injuries, including an immediate evaluation.

We would like to have a member from our group or from one of the other organizations that endorsed our attached policy recommendations present at the field evaluation. Please let us know when it will be taking place.

Thank you.

DC Safe Healthy Playing Fields

Cc:  Councilmember Mary Cheh
Councilmember David Grosso