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Gone in a Blaze of Glory

 

Spring is synonymous with two things, baseball and rain. And while April’s rain brings May’s flowers, it can be an unwelcome guest at the ballpark. Rainy weather and wet fields ruin the fun for kids and little leagues across the country, canceling practices and games. String a few rainouts together, and an entire season could be washed away.

 

Two small communities were in the news recently for trying to prevent a wet field from ruining a couple of youth baseball games. Coaches and league administrators took it upon themselves to attempt a creative, although not well conceived plan to dry their saturated infields. Brett Molina, a reporter from USA Today, described what happened next:

 

“According to a Facebook post from the town of Ridgefield, Connecticut, a baseball game at Governor Park was delayed because of weather conditions”… subsequently “a poor decision was made to dry the wet field more quickly by pouring 24 gallons of gasoline (on the dirt) and setting it on fire...”

 

Of course, this was not the first time someone tried the “blaze of glory method” to dry a field.  In fact, the name of this article is barrowed form a similar event which occurred in the late 1980s in California. This seems to happen frequently enough to merit a caution. Just a week prior to the Connecticut incident, a baseball coach in Utah tried the same technique. In his case pouring 15-20 gallons of gas over several parts of the field.

 

It’s clear in each of these cases that the intent was not to cause any harm or subject anyone to any danger. Unfortunately, the decisions forced the towns to close the fields for health concerns, costing the community much more than the inconvenience created by the original rain.

 

Shannon Thompson, a Chemical Engineer for 212 Environmental Consulting, LLC and an expert in the field of Human Health Risk Assessment, advises that using gasoline to dry baseball fields is bad for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are the health risks associated with burning fuel on a field where kids play. These towns will now need to assess the extent of any soil impacts, which will require significant time and investment.

 

According to Thompson, next steps would include:

  • Assessment of risk, which includes collecting shallow surface soil samples (0 – 6 inches) and slightly deeper soil samples (1 to 3 feet) to assess the vertical extent of impacts.
  • Comparison of the soil sample results to risk-based screening criteria, which in this case would be criteria that would be protective of a recreational user.
  • Development of site-specific screening values that incorporate appropriate exposure durations, body weight and skin surface area values representative of a Little Leaguer.
  • Excavation to meet the risk-based criteria and limit the potential for future exposure.

 

And now the financial costs.

 

The costs for the environmental assessment and remediation to a small community, Little League baseball program or a high school baseball team is significant. Though not engaged on these projects, Thompson estimates it could run in the neighborhood of $50,000-$75,000, with the ultimate price dependent on the extent of contamination and the amount of soil that would have to be excavated.

 

In the recent Connecticut incident, cleanup crews spent two days “digging up six to eight inches of contaminated dirt” that was hauled away. Repairs are expected to cost the town at least $50,000, and “even the insurance company can’t believe what happened.” These numbers fit right in line with what Thompson estimated.

 

As has been proven each time something like this happens, waiting for mother nature to dry the field is always the smarter, safer, and less expensive option. The health risks to the kids playing on a contaminated field is simply too great, while the potential impacts to the environment are too significant to ignore.

 

 

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