SSC Opposes Plastic Turf Field

SSC recommends organically maintained, natural turf for the SHS football field; with the proper expertise, grass fields allow quality play without threatening the health of our athletes.

The Sharon School Committee has requested an artificial turf football field be installed inside the existing SHS track.  Sustainable Sharon Coalition and Plastic Free Sharon oppose this plan!

Concerned Sharon Residents are asking for a three-year moratorium on the installation of artificial turf in the Town of Sharon: Vote Yes at Town Meeting in June
The primary concerns with the artificial turf field are: toxins in the plastic grass (PFAS – “forever chemicals”, flame retardants, and plasticizers); the high cost of plastic grass; and plastic pollution.

The Toxics Use Reduction Institute, U. Mass. Lowell, has published a very informative pamphlet concerning the issues related to PFAS in artificial turf, and the complexities of PFAS chemistry, and measuring PFAS chemicals.

SSC responds to questions and comments made during the artificial turf discussion at the January 28 Standing Building Committee meeting.

David Teter Consulting, tasked with determining the safety of artificial turf for the Town of Sharon, concludes that the synthetic turf carpets “will not pose an elevated risk to either aquatic habitat or human health.” A review by SSC and ecotoxicologist Helen Poynton finds the measurements made do not support the consultant’s conclusion.

PRESENTATIONS to the Standing Building Committee – January 21, 2020.

Debbie Tatro

Bri McAlevey (text of presentation)

Good evening, my name is Bri McAlevey, and I’m the mother of a Sharon HS varsity athlete. I walked across the HS field for the first time last year and I was appalled. It was a jaw dropping wake-up call that we need to do something to improve conditions for our athletes. Like most of you, I’ve stood on the sidelines of our competitor’s fields and said things like “gee, this is a gorgeous field, why doesn’t Sharon have one?”  I wish artificial turf was a good choice for Sharon, I really do. Unfortunately, things that sound too good to be true, often are too good to be true. As we just heard, there are real dangers that come with synthetic turf.

Sharon residents care deeply about the environment and the climate crisis. Sharon worked hard to become officially designated as a Green Community. We voted to ban plastic grocery bags, we vote time and again to protect our water, and we do everything we can to lower our carbon footprint with initiatives like energy aggregation and solar canopies.

Currently, there is a wave of litigation in the US chemical industry regarding PFAS. In one settlement, 3M agreed to pay $850 million dollars to Minnesota over PFAS contamination of drinking water. Lawsuits, in the Northeast, against manufacturers of PFAS include suits in NJ, NH, VT, and NY with more coming as the industry is forced to reveal the chemicals they’re using to make plastics. Installing a plastic grass field, that is equivalent to 3.3 million plastic bags, laced with toxic chemicals that are known to pollute water, compromise health, and devastate the towns where they’re manufactured, should not be an option for Sharon.

Why shouldn’t our kids have the gold standard in playing fields – a natural grass athletic field? We’re told that Sharon could never maintain such a field.

According to the Synthetic Turf Council (the organization that promotes artificial turf) fields are typically warranted for eight years, but their life expectancy depends on the amount and type of usage, and the maintenance it receives. If you play 1,000 hours on a turf field, you will be doing a lot more maintenance for more money and shorten the life span. The Synthetic Turf Council publishes this long list of guidelines so you don’t damage your turf and void your warranty. Apparently voiding the warranty is easy to do.

GUIDELINES The list includes things like:

  1. Purchasing expensive equipment that will need to be inspected and wiped clean every time it enters the turf.
  2. Installing pavement all around the turf to prevent contaminants like gum, leaves, soil, dirt on shoes, any organic matter, liquids including sports drinks, and oils.
  3. Maintaining and verifying an activity log is mandatory – “each and every maintenance activity, no matter how minor, must be recorded.”
  4. A maintenance person should walk the field daily to avoid permanent damage and safety hazards.
  5. Redistribute migrated infill, look for foreign debris, check seams.
  6. Leafy trees should not be located next to the field.
  7. Brush, drag mats and rake all over and more often in high use areas.
  8. Clean the infill that has collected at the edges of the mat before redistributing it.
  9. Track events can cause damage.
  10. And, perhaps most disturbing, use chemicals such as algaecides, fungicides, herbicides and anti-bacterial products, all of which would further contaminate our wetlands and lake.
  11. Field markings are especially difficult with cork infill and likely with Brockfill, they suggest subcontracting that out to avoid damage to the turf.

This is a partial list of the high maintenance required for turf.If we can commit to this, why can’t we invest the same level of resources to caring for a new grass field on a renovated base layer? We’re told that synthetic turf would cost about $1 million dollars to install and natural grass about half of that. The landscape architects state turf maintenance costs around $10 thousand dollars a year and natural grass costs $34 thousand, which seems way off. The Sports Turf Managers Association is the leading group of professionals that maintain both artificial and natural grass fields around the country. They state that natural grass costs much less to maintain even with high usage. Around $14,000 dollars for natural grass, and almost $23,000 dollars for artificial turf. Those are real numbers by active professionals doing the maintenance.

Investing in a well-maintained organic grass athletic field makes the most sense for Sharon. The Department of Public Works should be given the budget to purchase the specialized equipment, hire and train dedicated staff, and obtain the necessary supplies to properly care for it. These experts and new machinery could support all the fields in Sharon. Why not create a task force of stakeholders: the Department of Public Works, all the athletic associations the Recreation Department, and residents. and figure out how to install the gold standard at the HS this summer, upgrade every other field in Sharon, and work at solving many of the space issues we will have to deal with as we lose playing fields to construction.

Of course we won’t be able to play 1,000 hours on that one new grass field. However, a natural grass field with the right maintenance can be expected to withstand more 400—500 hrs. of playing time. I realize that’s difficult, given the lack of playing fields in town, but inconvenience is part and parcel of any big construction job. Practices will have to occur elsewhere, we’ll have to move teams around town and maybe out of town, but I think with a dedicated task force and the right budget we can figure this out. A well-maintained natural grass field is the gold standard, it’s less expensive over its lifetime, and would not pose legal challenges down the road.

We have the money to do something truly game-changing at the HS and contribute to the betterment of all the fields in town. Let’s not miss this opportunity. Our student-athletes work their butts off in the classroom and play their hearts out on the field. If we have the money to install a new natural grass field this summer, we should do it, and we should commit to maintaining it at a high level. Our student-athletes and our taxpayers deserve no less.

Thank you.

FIRST OPPOSITION LETTER

At the end of October, we delivered a 5 page letter with 33 references (below) to the Standing Building Committee and Conservation Commission, as both committees have not yet voted on the artificial turf issue.  The letter can be downloaded here, and a summary of that letter is provided below.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY – October 31, 2019

Synthetic turf contains toxic chemicals, including per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of compounds that includes over 4,000 chemicals. PFAS are a particular health threat, as they are highly persistent “forever chemicals” that never fully degrade and accumulate in our bodies and the environment.  Levels of PFAS are measured in parts per trillion, and are linked to increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis and high serum cholesterol levels.

Synthetic turf is made of polyethylene, 40,000 lbs of it, which is equivalent to 3.3 million shopping bags!  Over its 8 year lifespan more than 5,000 lbs of that plastic break off, due to constant exposure to sunlight, together with wear and tear due to trampling.  These plastic fragments are blown by the wind to surrounding wetlands, lake and woods, and are broken down further to microplastic.  After 8 years, the plastic turf carpet must go to a landfill, or be incinerated, at substantial cost.

The site of the proposed artificial turf field is over and immediately adjacent to a wetland that is regulated by the Sharon Conservation Commission under Sharon’s Wetland Bylaw and Wetlands Rules and Regulations, and the MA Department of Environmental Protection under the state Wetlands Protection Act and Regulations. The groundwater from the football field flows directly to three municipal wells that in 2018 provided 62% of our town’s drinking water!  This poses a real danger of contaminating our drinking water with PFAS, toxins and microplastics.

Our organizations recommend the use of organically maintained natural turf for the football field, and are asking for a two-year moratorium on artificial turf.  Occupancy of the new building is projected for 2023.  The moratorium will allow further study of the impact of these contaminants on human health and the environment so that residents and town officials can make an informed decision, which would also be based on a new MassDEP drinking water standard (Maximum Contaminant Level) for PFAS, which is currently being developed.

Debunking Myths: Artificial Turf vs. Natural Grass

  • Myth #1: There’s less exposure to toxic chemicals with artificial turf. Petroleum-based artificial turf (plastic grass) contains toxic chemicals, e.g. plasticizers, flame retardants, UV-inhibitors, colorants, and PFAS. Moreover, artificial turf must be treated with antibacterial biocides to prevent the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Plastic grass also breaks down into microplastic which binds other hydrophobic toxins (e.g. pesticides and heavy metals), and can become a concentrated source of toxins, even if the plastic itself is not toxic. Natural grass, in contrast, can be grown using non-toxic, organic fertilizers.
  • Myth #2: Artificial turf may be purchased without PFAS. Today, artificial turf is manufactured with endocrine disrupting PFAS chemicals. Although alternatives are being explored, no substitute has been identified with the requisite non-stick properties. Emerging data suggest that very low levels of PFAS may be linked to altered growth, learning, and behavior of infants and children; hormone disruption; decreased fertility; increased serum cholesterol levels; suppressed healthy immune responses; and increased risk of certain cancers.
  • Myth #3: Artificial turf can be recycled. Currently no recycling facilities in the U.S. can recycle plastic turf.
  • Myth #4: Artificial turf costs less.  In 2016, TURI estimated the 16-year annualized costs of natural grass and plastic turf to be $34K-$49K, and $66K-$109K, respectively. The higher cost of synthetic turf is due to the high costs or disposal and replacement. In the future, artificial turf may have to be handled as hazardous waste, at high a cost, based on its contamination with PFAS and other toxic chemicals.
  • Myth #5: There are fewer injuries with artificial turf. The risk of sprained ankles on natural grass are less than those from playing on plastic grass, as long as the natural grass fields are well maintained. In addition, turf burns, dehydration, and heat stroke are more common on artificial turf.
  • Myth #6: Every town has artificial turf fields and Sharon needs it too. Andover, Brookline, Concord, Harvard, Methuen, Newburyport, Springfield, Swampscott, and Wayland, for example, have all rejected artificial turf because of concerns about high cost, negative effects to the environment, and health risks.
  • Myth #7: Artificial turf stays in place. It is well known that any type of infill, whether it is crumb rubber or an alternative infill, is widely dispersed around the area.  Plastic blades also break off due to wear and tear, and sunlight breaks down the pieces into microplastic which could contaminate the adjacent wetlands and drinking water. Infill and plastic fragments will also be carried on athletes clothing, shoes, and equipment to their cars and homes.

For more information visit: https://www.fieldfundinc.org/faq-about-plastic-fields or contact Debbie Tatro, debbie@sustainablesharon.org

Feedback or questions on the SHS building plan can be submitted here: https://www.shsbuilding.com/home/webforms/submit-questions.  
The current plan is to purchase the turf in March, install it in June, and play on it next September.  So time is limited if we want to have input on the type of turf.

SSC presentation to Sharon Conservation Commission 12-19-19

Emerging Data Guide New PFAS Drinking Water Standard: MA Regulates PFAS at 20 parts per trillion

Sierra Club and Mt. Sinai School of Medicine Children’s Environmental Health Center warn Sharon residents about the health and environmental concerns of artificial turf

Former NIEHS Director: Engaged citizens must work to ensure our government officials pass health-protective policies based on the best available scientific evidence