Neighbors Voice Concern about Dust Spread At B-CC Turf Field Site

Neighbors Voice Concern about Dust Spread At B-CC Turf Field Site

Contractor says claim that dangerous materials were being used is false

| Published:
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Crews spread infill material on Wednesday afternoon for the new artificial turf field at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

Courtesy of Amanda Farber

Work to install a new artificial turf field at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School was halted Wednesday after neighbors raised concerns about potentially hazardous dust that was being kicked up.

As workers were spreading infill material on the field, clouds of dust wafted through nearby streets in the East Bethesda neighborhood.

East Bethesda resident Amanda Farber, who alerted MCPS and county officials to the issue, said she was concerned the crews were spreading silica dust, a material that the national Occupational Safety and Health Administration says can cause lung cancer if inhaled.

Farber, who is among a group of Bethesda-area residents who have raised concerns about the safety of artificial turf fields, said she did not see any construction crew members wearing face masks or taking other measures to protect themselves from the dust. At times, students were nearby watching or practicing sports on nearby fields, she said.

“The longer it went on the more alarming it was. You could see the dust plowing across the street into the neighborhood,” Farber said. “They should have had dust mitigation measures in place the entire time. Racing to finish is not an excuse for ignoring workers safety and the environment.”

Andy Hess, president and chief executive officer for Hess Construction, the general contractor of the project, said reports that crews were spreading silica “couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

He said sand – the same kind that is used in sandboxes – was laid on the field last week and naturally “has some silica in it.” But that work was completed and there was no silica being installed Wednesday. Rather, crews were laying an infill material called “zeolite,” Hess said.

“These are very environmentally friendly materials,” Hess said. “There’s no doubt there was a nuisance for the neighborhood with all the dust, but the reports we were spreading silica – nothing could be further from the truth.”

Farber disagreed with Hess’s claims that silica sand wasn’t being spread, and said there’s “no way to install this kind of artificial turf field without silica sand.” A website for AstroTurf, a major producer of artificial turf playing fields, says silica sand is “often used for synthetic turf ballast.”

MCPS temporarily issued a “stop work order” Wednesday afternoon.

When work resumed the same day, crews used a “water mitigation strategy” to help stop the large dust clouds.

MCPS spokesman Derek Turner said the field installation project was expected to be completed Thursday afternoon.

Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection Director Adam Ortiz could not be reached for comment Thursday morning.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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