Protecting the Workers from Infill Hazards... But How Will We Protect Our Children?

I've been closely following the installation of artificial turf at Oriole Field over the last couple of months, it's been a very interesting process and I've taken a lot of pictures along the way.  On Tuesday morning, August 8th, the workers finally got to the point in the process where they were putting crystalline silica into the turf to serve as infill.  

The contractor, Astroturf Great Lakes (AGL), has employed a crew of about 10 turf-installing professionals who seem to be doing a good job, but they communicate amongst themselves in Spanish, and so they are likely being exploited by the company as cheap but effective labor.  And that's worrisome because they are messing around with hazards that they may have not been warned about in the past.  This drove me to write to Superintendent Kyle Corlett of the Ludington Area School District (LASD) and copy it to the 7 school board members after I documented some of the issues saw:

As Oriole football players strain in the background, two workers are handling crystalized silica.  Note the fine dust in the foreground made from grinding the silica into the rug and the absence of any respiratory protection from that dust or the fine particles being spread.

"I went to Oriole Field, saw Tyrone Collins there overlooking what was happening. Work crews were working on putting crystallized silica underneath the carpet and I witnessed many OSHA violations, took a few pictures and plan on filing a complaint to the OSHA on Astroturf Great Lakes. Now I fully comprehend that you and the board do not care about the health of our children and grandchildren that will have to deal with this in the future, but hopefully you respect the health of the workers working on this project and have them use the minimum respiratory protection when installing this fake turf. I have multiple pictures of unsafe practices being employed by likely-unwary workers. Here is the complaint, let me know if you plan on taking any sort of action, as I will wait until tonight to file it:

The whole crew works without any respiratory protection while dealing with crystalline silica:  the grinder operator (foreground), the  foreman (endzone), the leaf-blower guy blowing silica around (in goal), the dumper driver and payloader driver (upper right).

COMPLAINT:  Employer's work crew (about 6) are currently applying crystalline silica as infill to a newly created artificial turf field.  This requires workers to load the material onto a spreader, the spreader applies it across the field, and then an additional unit sweeps and grounds it underneath the carpeting.  Dust clouds are created in the last process, during the spreading, and during the transfer from the bulldozer to the spreader.  Most of the workers have no eye protection, but none have respiratory protection at all.  I have taken multiple pictures of workers transferring, spreading, sweeping, and grounding without such protection.  The MSDS supplied by employer, notes that: "Respiratory Protection: When effective engineering controls are not feasible, or while they are being implemented, appropriate respiratory protection must be used. Use appropriate respiratory protection for respirable particulates based on consideration of airborne workplace concentrations and duration of exposure arising from intended end use. Refer to the OSHA Respirable Crystalline Silica standards; 29CFR1910.1053, 1915.1053 and 1926.1053 for specific requirements for respiratory protection. Always refer to the most recent government and local standards."  The MSDS notes also of the dangers of silicosis from minimal exposures:  "May cause cancer by inhalation.  Causes damage to lungs through prolonged or repeated exposure by inhalation."  and "Excessive inhalation of respirable crystalline silica dust may cause a progressive, disabling and sometimes fatal lung disease called silicosis."  

The workers all appear to be first-generation immigrants from Latin America and are likely unaware of the dangers imposed by this substance, carpet adhesives, and the crumb rubber they will be handling in the very near future, as these do not appear to have warning labels in Spanish.  [END complaint].

Scoops of crystalline silica being poured into the spreader from the small payloader.  Driver is standing outside the vehicle, and is in danger of breathing in dust, as is the payloader operator.

Christman Company, who is overseeing the contractor AGL, provided the school with Material Safety Data Sheets for Crystallized silica, and other hazards present in this construction, which will be left behind for our children to play on.  Here's some of the relevant part of the data sheet for silica:

Transferring, spreading, tamping down, and blowing crystallized silica are actions that all have the tendency to create silica dust.  The literature shows that sometimes small exposures to silica can lead to serious health effects of silicosis or even cancer.  To his credit, Superintendent Corlett recognized the hazardous condition and replied to me and the board:  

"Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Safety of our students and employees are our number one priority. I will forward your email to our site supervisors from the Christman Company about the possible OSHA violations. It is their responsibility to monitor on the district's behalf that OSHA standards are followed."

About four hours later in the afternoon, Corlett would follow up:

"The Christman Company and Astroturf are taking this very seriously and out of an abundance of caution are stopping work on the field. They are working on reviewing their safety plan and ensuring that the installation team is following that plan."

The team would take the rest of the day off, they've been working on the field over the last couple weeks from dawn to dusk.  They would resume later in the day on Wednesday, August 9th, and this time the leaf-blowing guy blowing sand was wearing a surgical mask and some protection for his hands and face/eyes while blowing around the crystallized silica:

The worker grinding the silica into the turf could also be seen wearing a mask and other protection while driving up and down the field:

Likewise, one can see a mask on the worker using the spreader to throw silica onto the carpet, and along with the payload operator, have those masks on while transferring the material:

They would be seen yesterday wearing masks once again while doing the same actions with the recycled tires (crumb rubber).  Crumb rubber has been studied by the National Institution of Health, and they determined 197 components in the recycled tires met a priori criteria for carcinogenicity.  Several high priority carcinogens were identified, including benzene, benzidine, benzo(a)pyrene, trichloroethylene and vinyl chloride.  Yet, the MSDS for AGL indicates that exposure to these minute carcinogen-enriched particles have "no data available".  

Thankfully, the company decided to err on the side of caution and put masks and other protective gear on their workers after being threatened with an OSHA violation for endangering their workers who have likely never been notified before this that they are handling dangerous materials in doing their job.  I have not yet notified OSHA, but I really have to so that AGL will not subject their workers to life-endangering chemicals in the future.  But what about our children?

When they kick up silica and rubber crumbs with every step as they practice or play on this field and come home with black-speckled socks and legs, when your goalie daughter comes home from practice with a soccer ball turned gray-and-black and complains about having trouble breathing, when your running back son comes home from the game with crystalized silica in his eyes and open wounds that you need to pick the tire crumbs out of, what then? 

Will you still think this $1.4 million investment to make a perfectly fine playing field into a hazardous area, where workers need to follow strict safety precautions just to handle the materials your children will be more intimately exposed to, was a good idea?

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Apparently, the safety edict was meant to last for only one day and one substance.  The worker above was operating the grind/sweeper tonight without any protection for his eyes or respiratory system as tire bits and silica kick up into the air.  Another was operating the spreader, spreading tons of shredded tires into the ground without any protection either.  

I took this picture with 4X magnification on my cell phone about 40 yards away and the smell of tires as he approached was stark and unmistakable.  

Speaking of the spreader operator, here he is, without any kind of respiratory or eye protection poking the bottom of the 300-400 gallon container of shredded tires.  The whole carcinogenic mess complete with powdery rubber debris will cascade down into the back of the spreader, mere feet away from the worker.  The payloader operator, better protected by the vehicle also is without any protection.  

 I hope OSHA gets to observe the safety issue themselves. Then levy a big fine on the contractor. That will make headline news to tell the local citizens what kind of people are running our school system putting the children in harms way.

Unfortunately, the time it takes for a crew to put silica and shredded tires on a turf field is about one long working day for each substance.  Getting OSHA or even MIOSHA motivated enough to make the trip from Lansing takes more time than that.  Still, had I contacted them before I contacted the school, there could have been a chance for them to come up and see the problems themselves.  Hopefully, they will consider my timestamped photographic evidence and testimony as a means to get Astroturf from exploiting its imported labor in the future and make the determination that bad things happened here. 

The boys are scrimmaging on the new field this morning:

You can make out a tire cloud by the feet of some of those moving around.  Quite a lot of people showed up to watch, I couldn't help but notice all the carcinogenic tire bits lying outside of the field.  That black stuff on the fringes and in the grass is ground-up tires, blown all the way across the track:

Excellent coverage, X. I think enough to start to make Erin Brockovich proud. But it's a sad thing for the community and children having to play on. I'm glad that Superintendent Corlett took notice of your letter to him/LASD for the safety of the workers/installers who are exposed. Maybe he is beginning to see the toxicity.  If people with young children, like the Community Development and City Manager would see their children exposed, maybe grass would be reinstalled--at twice the cost.  NOTHING but SAD for the taxpayer and the children

I 100% hope you file OSHA report.  Christman should not do this to other communities.  They are building Shelby grade school now.

A strand of Nader and Brockovich DNA runs through me.  I expect this work crew will install or reinstall up to six more fields this year, so the threat of silicosis or even cancer is very real for those who spend a couple of full days breathing in clouds of crystalized silica and ground tires for each field.  I feel they are using 'imported first generation' labor so that they can treat these employees as expendable assets without much fear of running into legal trouble.  It's terrible optics for the community, however, when you see them installing the field and needing respiratory protection to put in the two materials that children will be exposed to for years.  

It's tricky to get OSHA or MIOSHA in to help when you are not an affected employee or their authorized representative, but I'll be making some phone calls this week to see what can be done about this.

Another detailed  and well explained article X. I can guarantee that when the stands are full for the first game, everyone will be thinking the same thing when a cloud of dust or rubber particles fly into the air when the players fall  onto the turf. They'll be thinking are these pollutants harming the kids? And when players get sick from any common virus and start hacking and coughing the first thing the parents will be thinking is if the dust debris could be affecting their child. You may not have won the battle but you sure are going to have plenty of people thinking about how this new field is going to affect their children. 

I'll be going to football and soccer games this fall in order to do my own follow-up and documentation-- maybe some awareness operations too, so more parents and alumni will do their own research.  I was at soccer practice last night.  I'm really worried about goalies during goal-shooting practice, their face often gets close enough to the ground on saves to ingest or inhale silica, tire particles, and dust.  I think I saw the first turf burn, fortunately, the temperature was moderate and the kid was a trooper.  

Since much of the worst damage occurs after prolonged exposure, I fear many will soon forget the dangers, and those dangers will get greater as the field ages.


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