As noted recently, the North East School District voted to spend $3.5 million dollars to install artificial turf in a major upgrade to the athletic field. The information provided to the board in the public meeting was a presentation by a representative from the company that would provide the product and perform the work. The information included in the backup documents for the meeting was essentially sales material and drawings from the same company. What seemed to be missing was any discussion reflecting an investigation going beyond those documents.
If you spend a few minutes looking into the pros and cons of artificial turf, you’ll find a growing controversy nationwide over the health and safety of the athletes that play on the field as well as environmental issues associated with the chemicals used in the manufacturing process and the downstream effects from the material as it degrades. It isn’t just an issue of cost.
What seems simple can be very complex
Artificial turf has been around for decades and the average person watching a ball game doesn’t give it much thought, besides, who has the time or inclination to do further research and furthermore, why would you? In the case here, the North East School Board was tasked with the job of looking into the matter, a major field upgrade was being considered, so it became the responsibility of every board member to find out far more about turf than any of them would likely know.
Sales representatives are informative, but obviously biased
If you want a detailed presentation of what a turf company makes, what they recommend for your application and how they would install it plus all of the benefits of doing so, ask the sales rep. You’ll get beautiful full color photos and drawings and lots of technical specifications. What you get will be accurate, but it will all be positive, no mention of any downsides, no potential problems and definitely no mention of health and safety issues, environmental issues and stories of professional teams going back to grass. That information takes a bit more effort to discover, a lot more reading and it requires some understanding of scientific and technical issues far beyond asking how much it costs.
An interested citizen can do their own research and come up with a lot of questions and concerns and it takes a little bit of time to do so, but that’s what we expect from the board members who have been voted into their positions as our representatives for that very reason, to take on that work so every citizen in North East doesn’t have to, otherwise, why do we even have a school board?
Here’s a partial list of articles addressing artificial turf
Artificial turf potentially linked to cancer deaths of six Phillies ball players – report
Bosa sounds off on artificial turf being ‘problem’ for NFL
Only Natural Grass Can Level The NFL’s Playing Field
More games or more grass fields? Turf wars play out across Massachusetts
Boston bans artificial turf in parks due to toxic ‘forever chemicals’
You’ll find a lot of interesting quotes in the articles above:
Higher injury rates:
The NFL Players Association has presented data which found that players have a 28 percent increased rate of non-contact lower extremity injuries while playing on artificial turf.
Players also face a 32 percent higher rate of non-contact knee injuries on turf and a 69 percent higher rate of non-contact foot or ankle injuries on turf than on grass.
PFAS and other chemicals:
Recent independent testing of multiple artificial fields has found the presence of highly toxic PFAS compounds like 6:2 FTOH and PFOS. The EPA recently revised its health advisory for PFOS to state that in effect no level of exposure to it in drinking water is safe. The Inquirer bought pieces of the Phillies artificial turf and had it tested at two labs, and found it contained 16 types of PFAS, including PFOS.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 12,000 chemicals often used to make products resist water, stains and heat. They are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t naturally break down, and are linked to cancer, liver problems, thyroid issues, birth defects, kidney disease, decreased immunity and other serious health problems.
PFAS can be ingested, inhaled and absorbed through the skin – or even enter the body through open wounds.
Grass works everywhere:
Climate and weather are not barriers to natural grass practice or game fields. Cold-climate teams like the Packers, Steelers and Browns successfully maintain natural grass fields. Indoor stadiums shouldn’t be a barrier for grass fields, either. The Cardinals and Raiders have figured out how to provide a natural grass playing surface indoors.
Microplastics released into the environment and into the water:
“So on rainy days or on stormy days, or when the field is cleared of snow, the infill and the grass blades can release [microplastics] into the environment and become a problem,” said Pollard.
In Hull, where the town replaced an old grass field at the high school with a turf field in 2019, activists are now documenting the migration of plastic grass blades into adjacent Boston Harbor. And Martha’s Vineyard’s planning board last week voted down a proposed artificial turf field for the island’s high school over concerns the turf would contaminate the island’s water supply with PFAS — so-called “forever chemicals.” Several municipalities have gone further: Sharon, Wayland and Concord have all issued moratoriums on any new turf fields.
Are any of these issues sufficient to put this project on hold? Did the board look into any of them? Based on the lack of any discussion during the board meetings, it’s possible to conclude they were overlooked.
In a comment here after the article on May 21st, it was stated: “the team assembled for this project included community members to represent the town.” Perhaps that team looked into these issues, but where is the report that we can read to see what they investigated and found? Is it available?
This should be addressed in the upcoming board meeting
The residents and taxpayers of North East deserve a full explanation of how the board arrived at their unanimous vote in favor of a $3.5 million dollar artificial turf project of the type that many professional teams are now backing away from and some areas of the country are banning altogether and it certainly needs to be addressed before any final vote on the school budget. We hope the board will agree.