GROUP LETTER: Town Field Study – Fields of Delusions, Not Dreams

Submitted by Real Grass for Healthy Kids! Jude Braunstein, David Rudolph, Susan Rudolph, Warren Silver, Lian Tel, Bryan Tunney, Arthur Yee M.D.

The Town of Greenwich Athletic Field Study/Capital Improvement Plan 2020 includes a number of statements about the types of playing fields being considered … statements that require clarity in some cases and rejection in others.

To begin, we are not a group of NIMBYs who are anti-sport. We believe and concur that sports and outdoor activities of all types are crucial for everyone, especially children. Time outside not only helps physical well-being, but also improves emotional and intellectual health. Scientists have stated that outdoor play directly impacts a child’s stamina along with gross and fine motor skills.

We are against artificial/synthetic turf, particularly in our elementary and middle schools. To understand why, it is critical to know the scientific and medical findings.

We can’t claim ignorance any longer.

Scientists have shown that both the grass-like blades and the backing of artificial turf contain PFAS, highly toxic fluorinated chemicals. (1)

PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” since they accumulate in the body and do not break down. They have been linked to endocrine disruption and cancer. Children are especially vulnerable to harm from PFAS because of their developing bodies and the chemicals’ persistence in the body.

In a recent New York Times Op Ed piece (What Are Sperm Telling Us?) (2) , we read that “Chemical companies are as reckless as tobacco companies were a generation ago, or as opioid manufacturers were a decade ago. They lobby against even safety testing of endocrine disruptors, so that we have little idea if products we use each day are damaging our bodies or our children. We’re all guinea pigs.”

Most people think manufacturers must prove that chemicals are safe before they put them on the market. They are wrong. Weak and outdated federal law presumes that most chemicals are safe until proven toxic.

Fortunately, last month the EPA announced it was revamping the way it assesses toxic chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act. (3) In addition, the EPA decided to target attention to PFAS and to consider it a top priority. (4)

A scientist and lawyer formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated in an article, “… PFAS in synthetic turf should sound alarm bells for all municipalities with these fields.” And the Research Director of the nonprofit organization Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan stated, “We are concerned about the environmental fate and public health impacts of these chemicals from their use in both artificial turf and other products,
and the life cycle impacts of the production and disposal of PFAS chemicals used in plastics.” (5)

With the information available regarding (1) the harmful chemicals in artificial turf and (2) the benefits of real grass, it’s a disgrace that this debate continues.

We have good reasons to be concerned about our children running, sliding, falling, and playing on the plastic blades of grass and about all family members who are cheering from the sidelines. The Children’s Environmental Health Center of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai deemed the fake grass so dangerous it called for a moratorium on new artificial fields in 2017. As for the environment, the artificial turf’s chemical footprint on the earth is large and growing.

Both natural grass and synthetic surfaces wear out.
The difference is synthetic surfaces are not renewable.

We concur with the Study’s statement (page 5) that one of the goals includes maintaining and operating quality athletic fields regardless of the level of play. At the same time, agronomists maintain that grass fields don’t fail solely because of high traffic. They fail because they are not constructed and/or maintained properly. In fact,
both natural grass and synthetic playing surfaces wear out. The difference is that synthetic surfaces are not renewable whereas natural grass is. In consideration of climate change and environmental concerns, we must continue to support the reduction of plastic. We think that’s a good message for our entire community!

Let’s lead, not follow and build best-in-class natural, real-grass fields.
Let’s choose science over marketing.

We also agree with the Study’s statement (page 7) that “…there is a strong desire to establish playing venues the town could take pride in.” Greenwich should be proud of our town and our playing fields. Let’s not place emphasis on how we compare to another community while ignoring the welfare of our residents. Let’s not simply believe the marketing pitches of the AT industry while ignoring the growing scientific and medical experts.

The installation of plastic fields is antithetical
to the direction the community has been taking.
(Think of the positive strides concerning elimination of
single use plastic bags and plastic straws.)

Artificial grass blades are exposed to the elements and rough play over years. When UV rays hit plastic, they break the bonds holding the plastic together. The plastic becomes brittle and breaks into lots of little pieces that enter into our groundwater, streams, the Sound and ultimately oceans, where they further degrade into microplastics. On average, one synthetic turf field disperses 7,000 lbs. of microplastics into the environment annually. It is well known that “microplastics are a present and emerging threat to terrestrial ecosystems.” (6)

As Diana Zuckerman, PhD, National Center for Health Research wrote to the Greenwich BET in January of 2019, “The fields also continuously shed microplastics as the plastic blades break down. These materials may contain additives such as PAHs, flame retardants, UV inhibitors…” (7)

PFAS chemicals, unlike many other pollutants, do not break down,
making them some of the most persistent contaminants in the environment. (8)

Currently the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates the ways being used to destroy and dispose of industrial PFAS include dumping in landfills, incinerating, or injecting into deep wells for disposal. In all cases, this only perpetuates the lifecycle of pollution of these chemicals into land, air and drinking water.

The costs for a synthetic field increase exponentially as the plastic crumbles.

Artificial Turf proponents point to the fact that while it is more expensive to install, it has lower maintenance costs than grass. While it’s true that maintaining a natural grass field in the early years may be more expensive than a turf field, it’s not by a significant margin. Properly installed and maintained quality natural grass remains viable for at
least twice as long, while the costs for a synthetic field increase exponentially as the plastic crumbles, infill needs repair and replacement, and ultimately the replacement of the field itself is necessary. (9)

According to the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute, “In nearly all scenarios, the full life-cycle cost of natural turf is lower than the life-cycle cost of a synthetic turf field for an equivalent area.”

With awareness around the country about the health effects of PFAS and the calculations of what artificial turf installations actually cost over their full life-time, including the expensive removal, transportation to and disposal of synthetic turf in facilities capable of managing hazardous chemicals, it may send a shock wave through the many schools and sports facilities who want more shiny green
stuff. (10)

It’s a no-brainer on all accounts!

We keep on spending taxpayers’ money on consultants regarding the fields in Greenwich seemingly without consideration of the plethora of available scientific information. It seems ludicrous that we continue to have this debate. Wouldn’t it be nice if the town spent as much on getting input from soil experts and professionals who install natural grass fields? Wouldn’t it be a relief to know that our town is willing to dedicate manpower and funding to professionally maintain our grass fields?

Over the past years at various governmental meetings our group has had physicians and scientists speak to the community, educating us and alerting us to the dangers of artificial turf playing fields especially for children. Isn’t it time we listen to and consider the advice and warnings of the science and medical communities, rather than

continuing to rationalize why AT is the answer to our playing field needs? It’s a firm “yes” on all accounts.

Real Grass for Healthy Kids!

Jude Braunstein
David Rudolph
Susan Rudolph
Warren Silver
Lian Tel
Bryan Tunney
Arthur Yee, M.D.