Quinnipiac’s athletes will soon have a functioning synthetic turf field again, even with the winter freezes that have frequently turned the existing one into a sheet of ice.
After Hamden’s Inland Wetlands Commission (ICW) put a hold on the university’s plans to replace its cork North Field turf with rubber last month, the university received approval Wednesday evening to go ahead and put in the rubber ...
... with three conditions.
First, Quinnipiac’s facilities department must prewash the rubber fill and get the washing process approved by Inland Wetlands Enforcement Officer Tom Vocelli and two members of the commission before it can place it on the field.
Second, it must submit an annual report to the IWC determining whether particles have entered the adjoining wetlands.
Finally, the university must always ensure that snow is plowed to the northern part of the field so that any bits of the rubber that end up in the snow piles will stay on the end furthest from the wetlands.
Quinnipiac’s facilities department completed the cork field in August 2017 after receiving approval to construct a stadium on the site in 2015. During the following winter, the field became unusable because the cork soaked up water and then froze. It “became like a sheet of ice,” only with some blades of synthetic grass poking up, Quinnipiac Vice President of Facilities and Capital Planning Sal Filardi told the Independent.
Filardi talked to engineers, and could not get an answer about why the turf was freezing. He knew that other schools use black rubber turf and don’t have the same freezing problems. Rubber does not absorb water like cork does, and since it’s black, the sun heats up the field, preventing it from freezing.
As a condition of the original approval, the IWC has said that the field could not use crumb rubber, but that cork was acceptable. Crumb rubber is made from ground up used tires, and is known to leach harmful chemicals into water, which could endanger the wetlands that sit downstream from the stadium.
“We assumed that we couldn’t use crumb rubber but that we could use something else,” said Filardi. He decided to replace the cork with EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer), a safer alternative used on many turfs. He ordered the EPDM and was prepared to put it in, when Hamden Inland Wetlands Enforcement Officer Tom Vocelli told him that he would have to go before the IWC again to get the EPDM approved.
When Filardi brought his application to the IWC on Jan. 2, it was tabled so that commissioners could do site inspections, and so that Filardi could gather information proving that the EPDM would not harm the wetlands downstream.
“They really are good caretakers of the land,” said Commission Chair Joan Lakin, referring to Quinnipiac. As commission member Kirk Shadle explained, however, both the university and the IWC have done a lot of work to protect the wetland below the stadium, and he would hate to see any harm done to it that could have been prevented.
Dialing Up Oakland
Filardi hired David Teter, an engineer based on San Francisco, to run tests on EPDM to make sure that it would not leach harmful chemicals into the nearby wetlands. Since Filardi already had the EPDM turf, he was able to send it to Teter so that he could test the exact material that would be used on the field.
Teter ran tests on the EPDM to determine the concentrations of potentially harmful chemicals that it leaches into water, and compared the results with the acceptable levels of those chemicals in Connecticut’s water and soil quality standards. In all cases, the EPDM passed the test, with the concentrations of leachate remaining well below the state’s acceptable levels.
Nonetheless, members of the commission still had concerns. In particular, they were worried about a study published in 2000 that showed EPDM to have negative impacts on shrimp and nitrifying bacteria, though the study may have used a different kind of EPDM
Shadle found the potential effects on nitrifying bacteria particularly concerning. Nitrifying bacteria, he explained, drive the nitrogen cycle, which turns ammonium, a natural waste product of organisms, to nitrate, which plants use as a nutrient. Certain types of bacteria start the process by converting ammonium to nitrite, at which point another bacterium takes over and converts the nitrite into nitrate. The 2000 study had shown that EPDM stopped the cycle after ammonium had been converted to nitrite, showing that certain chemicals had stopped the bacteria that perform the nitrite to nitrate step of the cycle. If the nitrogen cycle were disrupted, said Shadle, that could have serious consequences for the wetland ecosystem.
Shadle also asked how the EPDM would hold up in the long term, because Teter’s study had only addressed the leaching from relatively new EPDM.
When neither Filardi nor Bernie Pellegrino, the attorney he had hired for the application, could answer questions about the effects of time on EPDM leaching or about its impact on the nitrifying bacteria, the commission decided that it needed to get Teter on the phone.
Teter was driving home from work somewhere outside of Oakland when he picked up Filardi’s call. Filardi placed the phone on speaker and set it down on the desk in front of Lakin, who bent a microphone down to the speaker so the whole commission could hear.
“All EPDM rubber can be very different,” began Teter, explaining that when it comes to the 2000 study, you “really can be comparing different things.” He said that most of the roofs in the watershed area were probably made from EPDM.
Low Risk To Wetlands
He had not tested EPDM on nitrifying bacteria, nor had he run tests on how EPDM’s leachates change over time. Yet he assured the commission that he was not worried about the effects of time on the substance. The highest levels of chemicals come out of EPDM on its first contact with water, he explained. After that, leachates decrease significantly.
That was when a commissioner brought up the idea of a prewash, asking Teter if he thought that would help.
Teter said a prewash could be a good idea. “It is my opinion that this is a very low risk to the wetlands,” he explained. “That said, doing a prewash would lower that risk even more.”
No one was exactly sure how one washes a football field’s worth of EPDM crumbs. Teter suggested a cement mixer, though Town Planner Dan Kops nixed that idea because the mixer could add its own contaminants to the rubber.
Teter also had another suggestion: “taking it to the university’s rival school and filling up their swimming pool with it would do it,” he joked.
Filardi probably won’t take his bags of EPDM down to Yale’s swimming pools, but he will spend the next few weeks figuring out some other way of washing the rubber. If he can’t figure anything out, he’ll have to go back to the IWC.