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No Toxic Turf at SHS

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Artificial turf, regardless of the infill, is not as cost-effective nor as low-maintenance as it is marketed to be, poses serious health and environmental concerns, and is not the preferred playing surface for the majority of athletes. A safer and lower-cost alternative is organically managed natural grass fields.   Please do not approve the installation of artificial turf fields at Shrewsbury High School.

On October 19th, 2016, the SHS Turf Project Team and Gale Associates presented to the SHS school committee a $800,000 dollar proposal to install an artificial turf field on the SHS campus with Envirofill infill, an acrylic-coated round sand infused with Microban. Funding would initially come from private donors, but SHS, would be expected to pay for future upkeep. The plan, designed to be implemented as early as the summer of 2018, includes the installation of an  artificial turf playing field with Envirofill. The intent is to eventually host all soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, and football practices and games (from the youngest players through high school and adult leagues) there for decades to come. From financial, maintenance, health, environmental, and playability perspectives alike, organic natural grass is a far better choice.

Artificial turf fields are not as low-maintenance nor as cost-effective as their billion-dollar industry suggests. According to Gale Associates, installation costs for a new artificial turf field with Envirofill infill costs $800,000, assumes a 12-14-year carpet life, and the only maintenance is grooming with a towed groomer 4-5 times per year. The limited warranty covers only 8 years, however, and can be voided for a multitude of common conditions/maintenance practices. The life cycle costs of organic natural grass fields, when compared to those of artificial turf, are essentially the same—assuming the artificial carpet lasts 6 extra years after warranty expiration, and the cost of replacement doesn’t rise. Not mentioned: the premature failure rate of artificial turf fields, concerns regarding the Microban infused coating on Envirofill , the intensive maintenance costs and practices necessary to keep the carpet sanitary and safe—including sweeping up debris like trash and leaves, brushing to straighten fibers, deep raking to loosen infill, spraying disinfectant and anti-static chemicals, manual removal of gum (with a solvent, then hand-pried out of the fibers), cleaning of spilled drinks, vomit, spit, sweat, blood, and animal droppings (dog, goose, etc.), and repairing loose seams to avoid liability issues. Note that “Microban antimicrobial product protection is limited to the product itself and is not designed to protect the users of these products from disease causing microorganisms.” Given the exorbitant costs and many complications associated with artificial turf fields, it would be highly irresponsible for SHS to assume financial responsibility for its  upkeep.

Forbes. “Buyers’ Remorse Surfacing over Artificial Turf Fields.” October 23, 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2014/10/22/buyers-remorse-surfacing-over-artificial-turf-fields/#7203e2c321ff

City Limits. “NYC’s Fake Grass Gamble: A $300 Million Mistake?” August 24, 2010. Winner of the 2010 Sigma Delta Chi Award for Investigative Reporting. http://www.spjvideo.org/sdx/sdx10/mag-inv-reporting-r.pdf

Red Hen Turf. “The Dirt on Turf: What You Need to Know About Synthetic Turf and Natural Grass for Athletic Fields.” http://redhenturf.com/pdfs/TheTruthAboutArtificialTurf.pdf

Artificial turf fields are not safe. According to Mount Sinai Hospital Children’s Environmental Health Center, “All components of an artificial turf field (fiber blades, infill, backing, colorants, sealants, antimicrobials, and flame retardants) contain potential chemicals of concern and can leach from the product.” They urge extra caution when the site is in close proximity to a water source potentially contaminated by chemical leaching and SHS is in  Shrewsbury’s  Aquifier Protection Overlay District. Further, the antimicrobials and fungicides required to routinely sanitize the fields “not only increase the likelihood of chemical exposures, they may pose health risks for children chronically exposed to them.” Although the newly proposed infill is marketed as a safer alternative, relatively little information is available on the chemicals present in, or emitted from, this infill, , nor is the manufacturer required to list all chemicals. Risk of joint injuries, turf burns, “turf toe,” and heat-related complications are proven to be more likely on artificial turf, and it is a fertile breeding ground for harmful bacteria including those that cause antibiotic-resistant infections such as MRSA. Artificial turf also denies our children hours of time that would otherwise have been spent on grass and dirt, the immunological and psychological benefits of which are well documented.

Mount Sinai Hospital Children’s Environmental Health Center. “Artificial Turf: A Health-Based Consumer Guide.” February 2016. http://media.wix.com/ugd/fd0a19_f5aa0824698341499b4228ebabf90cb5.pdf

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “MRSA and the Workplace.” August 27, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/mrsa/ (Note: the artificial turf proposed for SHS would likely qualify for all five C’s of the MRSA risk factors.)

Most athletes dislike playing on artificial turf. From professional athletes down to the youth level, the majority of players regard artificial turf as a second-tier playing surface. This strong preference is based on increased post-game recovery time, risk of injury, and heat stroke on artificial turf, as well as a fundamental preference for playing the sport on grass. These issues led a group of international soccer players to file a lawsuit against FIFA for forcing them to play the 2015 Women’s World Cup on artificial turf.

Lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association regarding the use of artificial turf at the Women’s 2015 World Cup. http://equalizersoccer.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/141001_2_Application-Sec-24-Schedule-A.pdf

Change.org. “FIFA: The World Cup Should Be Played on Natural Grass.” https://www.coworker.org/petitions/fifa-the-world-cup-should-be-played-on-natural-grass (Note: more than 70 national team players from 17 countries signed this petition.)

BMC Sports Science, Medicine, and Rehabilitation. “The Perceptions of Professional Soccer Players on the Risk of Injury from Competition and Training on Natural Grass and 3rd Generation Artificial Turf.” March 2014. http://bmcsportsscimedrehabil.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2052-1847-6-11

Artificial turf is bad for the environment. In a town striving to be more forward-thinking and environmentally conscious—banning plastic bags, installing vegetable gardens at many schools—to install acres of plastic carpet seems at odds with our collective values. To carbon offset the 10-year impact of one artificial turf field, 1,861 trees would have to be planted. In contrast, total greenhouse gas emissions for natural turf are actually negative, thanks to natural grass carbon sequestration. From the manufacturing of carpet and infill, to installation, maintenance, and replacement, artificial turf uses more resources and has more negative environmental impacts than natural grass sod.

Athena Institute. “Estimating the Required Global Warming Offsets to Achieve a Carbon Neutral Synthetic Field Turf System Installation.” 2006. www.athenasmi.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/UCC_project_ATHENA_technical_paper.pdf

Safely maintained organic grass fields are feasible. Proponents of artificial turf point to the SHS’s pre-existing, admittedly neglected grass fields as proof of grass not being durable enough to withstand significant use—but high usage takes a toll on artificial turf as well. The ability to rehabilitate an organic natural grass field is a major advantage. Resodding high-wear areas can be done easily and cheaply. Further, investing in irrigation, drainage, and even SubAir systems , and researching best practices used by local experts will go a long way toward providing truly safe, sustainable, natural grass playing fields. Will we need to be mindful about how we use the fields, and will there be imperfections and challenges? Sure, but there is value in that, too.

Forbes. “Failure Rate of Artificial Turf Fields Unknown by Public.” November 2, 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2014/11/02/failure-rate-of-artificial-turf-fields-unknown-by-public/#4fcd279737d8

SportsField Management Magazine. “Back to the Basics.” January 28, 2016. http://www.sportsfieldmanagementmagazine.com/maintenance/back-to-the-basics/



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