We all want our children to be healthy, and playing team sports is an important part of that. We need to be sure that the playing surfaces we choose are the safest for our young athletes and for the environment they will inherit from us.
The Sustainable Dover initiative adopted in 2005 is designed to assist the city in decision-making, policy development, and city planning. Part of the framework specifies taking action to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, chemicals and other manufactured substances that can accumulate in nature, and activities that harm life-sustaining eco-systems. We applaud this initiative, but worry that it was not referenced when making the decision to install a synthetic turf field at the high school.
Synthetic turf is a fossil fuel intensive product. It is treated with toxic chemicals like flame retardants. The most common infill, crumb rubber, contains at least 92 chemicals, 11 of which are known carcinogens, and heavy metals like lead, sometimes at high levels. The CDC has concluded that there is no reliable evidence for a safe level of lead. Lead has been found in numerous samples of synthetic turf fields—even after the industry promised to stop using lead to dye the plastic grass. Lead is known to reduce IQ points in children.
Synthetic turf must be replaced 8-10 years on average. The most common method of disposal is in a landfill. Pieces of plastic grass and infill migrate into our environment and watershed. Studies have found that synthetic turf poses a threat to biological organisms, and zinc has been found at levels above EPA Fresh Water Standards. Due to the variability in toxic contaminants found, one study has called for the testing of every artificial field to measure its risk to players, especially children.
Children are most vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemical exposure. Players absorb chemicals they come in contact with through their skin, and by accidental ingestion. Chemicals are inhaled through dust or volatilization. Because athletes respiration rates are faster, they intake more of these chemicals. Often, small children sit on the sidelines of these fields where they can put their hands, infill, or grass pieces in their mouths.
Synthetic fields get up to 70 degrees hotter than the surrounding air. On warm sunny days temperatures can range from 120 to 180 degrees. Playing on synthetic turf can melt shoes, blister hands and feet, and induce dehydration and heatstroke. This ‘heat island effect’ has many negative impacts on the surrounding community, as well. According to the EPA, impacts include increased energy consumption; elevated emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases; compromised human health and comfort; and impaired water quality.
A grass field stays naturally cooler through evaporation – keeping athletes safe and mitigating impacts of the heat island effect. Grass fields are identified as the only known safe alternative to synthetic fields by numerous independent public health organizations. Toxics Use Reduction Institute at UMass Lowell, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, are just some who recommend natural grass for playing fields.
As a group dedicated to protecting public and environmental health we can only advocate for the known safe alternative – an organically maintained natural grass field. By utilizing organic land management practices according to what is now city policy, we can more than double the current use of our existing grass field to 1000 hours of use per season, at a mere fraction of the cost of a synthetic field.
We firmly oppose the installation of a synthetic field, because of the unacceptable environmental and health hazards they present. In the event that the committee decides to go against the advice of independent public health experts and to reject the safest option for our children, we ask that the options of crumb rubber and EPDM be removed because of the known hazards they pose. We can’t advocate for any infill alternative over another because they have not been tested for safety and are currently unregulated. Despite deceitful marketing tactics, there exists no infill certified by the USDA or any third party as organic. Information on synthetic turf from three public health groups has been provided in print form to the committee by our group in recent weeks. Infills are discussed therein, as well as safety claims and a detailed cost comparison. We strongly urge the committee to make the choice that is in line with city policy, and is safest for Dover’s athletes and for our environment – organic natural grass. Thank you.
Click here to send a message to the Joint Building Committee – Say No To A Synthetic Turf Field At Dover High School
References and resources:
Video of the event we co-hosted with Non Toxic Portsmouth on artificial turf versus organic grass athletic fields is available to watch in its entirety. Speakers include Rachel Massey, Toxics Use Reduction Institute, University of Massachusetts, Lowell and Chip Osborne, Osborne Organics.
THE 100-YARD DECEPTION
A six-month NJ Advance Media investigation found FieldTurf, the top U.S. maker of artificial sports fields, made millions selling high-end turf to taxpayers in towns and schools across N.J. and the U.S. after knowing it was falling apart.
Commitment to Organic Land Management Practices (search ‘organic’)