Feature Article - July/August 2005
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SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT
A Complete Guide to Sports Surfaces and Flooring

Sure Footing

By Kyle Ryan



AS FAST AS MERCURY

How one sports surfacing system developed half a century ago still lurks

Synthetic track surfaces now usually have a five-year warranty, though if well-maintained, they can last many years beyond that. Still, in a weird reversal of technological evolution, they don't compare to one of their predecessors.

In the 1950s, 3M and a company called MCP Industries created an athletic surface called Tartan, which was originally designed for horse tracks and stalls (the running boom wouldn't arrive for another 25 years). Tartan became the standard for polyurethane athletic surfacing; it was durable, long-lasting and high-performance.

And loaded with mercury. Those were heady days, back when the EPA didn't exist yet. Everyone knows how mercury's story ends, though, and those mercury-filled tracks eventually became hazardous material. Not only was there a health risk, but Tartan tracks also had a tendency to return to their initial liquid stage, a process called reversion.

"A good analogy is it starts to turn to bubble gum," says Don Paige of Paige Design Group in Bahama, N.C.

Most of the old Tartan surfaces have been removed, and a mercury-free version is now on the market. The old ones still pop up every now and then, Paige says, like when a 200-meter indoor Tartan track at Syracuse University had to be removed two years ago.

Once removed, the material is disposed into a special haz-mat landfill or burned in a special incinerator.

"One of the things we point out [to owners] is don't expect this product to last 25 years like your last product did because it's not as durable," says Paige of modern synthetic systems. "It doesn't hold up as well as the Tartan product—those heavy metals, they were truly helping the product last longer."


Top Left: Golf surfacing at play in Santa Barbara, Calif.

PHOTO COURTESY OF VERSASPORT INTERNATIONAL

Middle Right: The University of Illinois Armory in Champaign, Ill.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BEYNON SPORTS SURFACES, INC.

Middle Left: Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, installed a rubber and sand infill system with a 10 mm underpad. The 102,000-square-foot field includes inlaid game markings for football and white end zones with lettering.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SURFACE AMERICA

Bottom: Forget green or red, now even purple has its place on the tennis court.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SPORTMASTER