Friday, July 3, 2020
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Batavia ballot question seeks loan for astroturf

Voters in Batavia Public School District 101 will advise the district Tuesday whether it should borrow $15 million, to be repaid over 20 years, to make improvements to the grounds at Batavia High School, including the building of two artificial turf fields and the installation of new windows and parking lots, the Chicago Tribune reports. (Here’s a complete list in draft form of the proposed upgrades.)

Fermi National Accelerator Lab, from
Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Batavia

Since the district already allocates about $1.5 million annually for facilities upgrades, school officials say the loan won’t affect tax rates in the district. However, that assumes the current allocations remain in place over the next 20 years. The total interest paid over the 20 years on the $15 million will be about $9 million.

When voters approved $75 million in 2007 for a fine arts center, a similar pledge was made concerning taxes. Then the recession happened and tax rates went up, the district claims, due to a decrease in property values, not due to the $75 million.

Anyway, talk is cheap. We simply have to take the district at its word that it doesn’t currently intend to raise taxes to help pay back any loan. Circumstances in the next 20 years, though, may dictate a different course of action.

“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” writes one blogger on the Batavia Taxes blog.

District officials seem to encourage a yes vote

Despite a policy against the use of school resources to influence the will of voters, some school district employees have issued statements about the referendum, though many avoid advocating a yea or nay vote. Examples include a YouTube video by Dave Andrews, Batavia’s athletic director.

But not all the opinions coming from school employees avoid advocating one side or the other. The school’s football coach, Dennis Piron, allegedly sent out an email, from his personal email account, asking voters to support the current referendum, the Daily Herald reported.

According to the Daily Herald, quoting a Batavia resident who filed a complaint improperly with the Kane County Clerk, Mr Piron referred to himself as “Coach Piron” in the subject line of the email and then proceeded to ask voters to support the $15 million referendum.

“Coach Piron cannot say it’s a personal email once he has identified himself as Coach Piron,” the paper quoted Carl Dinwiddie as saying.


NBC News here describes a recent surge in the number of student-athletes, notably soccer goalies, suffering from cancer after playing on artificial turf fields.

The peer-reviewed Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology published a study in 2008 that found the level of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the rubber granules used as infill in artificial turf fields was often above health-based soil standards, especially with newer fields. Levels tend to decrease over time, but the rate of decay is sometimes complicated by field crews adding more granules to maintain the surface.

A 2011 study out of Italy, published in the peer-reviewed journal Science of the Total Environment found that “the artificial-turf granulates made from recycled rubber waste are of health concern due the possible exposure of users to dangerous substances present in the rubber, and especially to PAHs. In this work, we determined the contents of PAHs, metals, non-dioxin-like PCBs (NDL-PCBs), PCDDs and PCDFs in granulates, and PAH concentrations in air during the use of the field,” wrote the researchers.

Based on the PAH levels, the study found that athletes using artificial turf fields for an “intense 30-year activity” are slightly more likely to get cancer, compared to athletes who aren’t exposed to PAHs. This year, about 224,210 are expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer, for instance, according to the American Lung Association. This comes to an incidence rate of about 60 cases for every million people. Using round numbers, each person has 0.006 percent probability of being diagnosed with lung cancer this year. If playing intensely on an artificial turf field, that probability would increase to about 0.006000006 percent.

Finally, a study published earlier this year out of Rutgers University found that any elevated risk of cancer was minimal. Researchers examined body fluids from athletes who played on artificial turf fields and found a minimal increase, if any, for PAHs and for several metals linked to health risks. “It was found that the PAHs had a low bioaccessibility and only between one-quarter and one-half of the lead and chromium in the turf were bioaccessible.”

You can interpret this array of research as suggesting that while the material itself, specifically the rubber granules, which are often made from recycled tires, contains high levels of hazardous compounds, it’s not like athletes are eating this stuff. Some danger may come from airborne chemicals, but the Rutgers study suggests that doesn’t happen for the PAHs, lead, or chromium. As for other semi-volatile organic compounds, no study has been officially published yet, according to the Rutgers study’s introduction.

UPDATE Nov. 5, 2014: Voters refused in the election to give school officials permission to borrow $15 million to pay for projects that include synthetic turf athletic fields, windows and parking lots. The approximate vote total was 73 percent against approval of the referendum. The loan would have been repaid over 20 years with $9 million in interest. “We are glad the public cared enough about the District to show up and vote, and we are glad the Board cared enough to ask the question,” said district Superintendent Lisa Hichens in an emailed statement. “Board Members put the alternate bond question on the ballot specifically to get direction from the public.”
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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