Opinion: Urging grass over synthetic fields in Fairfield

Sustainable Fairfield is requesting that Fairfield’s Representative Town Meeting vote no on the synthetic turf field proposed for Roger Ludlowe Middle School, and consider a moratorium on new artificial turf fields until environmental and health impact assessments can be conducted.

The reasons for our request are the health and safety Fairfield’s children, damage to local ecosystems, and concerns for contaminated runoff leaking into our watershed and ultimately into Long Island Sound.

There is a growing list of data being compiled on both environmental and health consequences associated with synthetic turf fields. Environment & Human Health Inc. has summarized its findings, noting, “There is no safer surface for athletic play than natural grass.” They have found evidence of toxic substances, such as PFAS, in synthetic turf. Multiple exposures to these chemicals over time have not been studied enough to risk our children as test subjects.

One study by The University Hospitals Sports Medicine Institute found athletes were 58 percent more likely to sustain an injury during athletic activity on artificial turf. Injury rates were significantly higher for football, girls and boys soccer, and rugby athletes. The Associated Press recently reported NFL Players Association president JC Tretter cited the league’s official injury reports from 2012-2018 to state his case that natural grass fields provide a much lower risk for injuries, compared to artificial surfaces. “The data stands out and the numbers are staggering in the difference in injury rate,” Tretter said “We all should be working toward the safest style of play, and we know the dangers of playing on turf.”

Turf fields amplify heat during warm weather, A study conducted at Brigham Young University found that surface temperature of the synthetic turf was 37° F higher than asphalt and 86.5° F hotter than natural turf. As global temperatures rise, this will only become worse in coming years. Dr. Sarah Evans, professor of Health and Environmental Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai notes “There are very real risks of heat injury that make playing on even moderately hot days inadvisable, and this applies to all infill types.”

Plastic is petroleum product, and should not be added to our environment. In addition, the coating for the proposed filler, Envirofill, contains antimicrobial and anti fungal decontaminants. These will contribute to destroying soil, roots of trees and other botanicals our ecosystem relies on.

We care about the environment, but as Fairfield taxpayers, we also care about costs. Dr. Evans asks, “What are the costs of maintenance (repair, cleaning/disinfecting, infill replenishment, regular Gmax testing etc.) and disposal plans are for existing and future turf fields. Are those itemized and budgeted for across the lifespan of the fields?” Synthetic turf cannot be recycled. The Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA), a worldwide organization, recommends natural grass, noting “Oftentimes many of the benefits of natural grass systems are overlooked because of strong arguments and marketing efforts of synthetic turf companies.”

In light of all these questions, We feel there is no need to rush this decision. Our citizens and our children deserve transparency and research. Synthetic turf fields should not be considered until they can be proven safe. Grass is not harmful to children. Synthetic turf just might be.

Thank you.

Bob Wall, Chair

Sustainable Fairfield Task Force