LETTER: Don’t Take a Chance on Artificial Turf at Western Middle School

Submitted by Susan Rudolph, Greenwich, Member of Greenwich Sustainability Committee, Co-Founder Real Grass for Healthy Kids!

Why does the plan for removing and managing toxic soil at Western Middle School (WMS) include putting toxic plastic that contains PFAS back on the fields? This makes no sense.

Weeds sprouting at a close off field at Western Middle School. Aug 21, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager
Weeds sprouting in a fenced-off field at Western Middle School. Aug 21, 2017

The remediation plans for WMS submitted by Langan Engineering describe removing most of the contaminated soil, capping the area with clean fill, geotextile fabric, crushed stone and finishing it by installing artificial turf (AT). Topping the school playing field with a blanket of plastic that creates an ecological dead zone is a bad solution when better options exist!  The EPA, for example, describes cases of isolating contaminated soil and then planting natural grass on the top layer.


A deeper look shows a complex picture, one that refutes the marketed benefits of AT and instead reveals the life-altering hazards it creates. At the same time, there is growing evidence that natural grass fields contribute to vital ecological functions and the wellbeing of humans. For all of these reasons, the Greenwich Sustainability Committee supports the use of real grass not artificial turf.

Don’t be fooled by the plastic industry’s claims as they push their toxic artificial turf product on cities, schools, and towns all across the country. There is extensive data debunking the claims that artificial turf playing fields are a “green” or less costly alternative to grass. Here are some of the facts:

  • Environmental Impact: Artificial turf, made from a stew of petroleum-based components, is nearly impossible to recycle. As for greenhouse emissions, the manufacturing, installation, service, and disposal of a two-acre AT field is responsible for the generation of 55+ metric tons of CO2. Nearly 1900 trees would need to be planted as a carbon offset. In addition, the heat islands created by AT cause detrimental effects to human health as well as the natural environment. In contrast, real grass sequesters carbon and keeps the surroundings safe and cool. 
  • Human Health: PFAS-free turf does not exist, whatever the turf salespeople tell you. The blades and backing of artificial turf contain PFAS, called “forever chemicals,” and are linked to cancer, congenital disabilities, and other serious health problems. Children and teens are considered more vulnerable to exposure because they are smaller and their bodies are still developing.                                             

And there’s more. Microplastics are created during both AT production and usage.  They are not biodegradable, and exposure can lead to hormone disruption, organ damage, and a weakened immune system. Unfortunately, here again young children are most highly vulnerable. For all athletes, reports show a higher rate of non-contact knee, foot, or ankle injuries on AT than on grass.

  • The Cost Myth: Taxpayers have been led to believe AT fields are cheaper than natural grass due to lower expenses for labor and upkeep. But non-partisan studies have shown the exact opposite. The huge expenses to install and maintain an AT field, the need to continually replace migrated infill and sanitize the plastic blades, as well as the high cost to dispose of the worn-out turf all result in higher costs when compared to a well-managed grass field. 
  • Liability: Individual states are adding more stringent regulations about products with PFAS. Here in Connecticut, such a bill was recently introduced: (HB5070) “An Act Prohibiting State and Municipal Contracts for the Purchase and Installation of Artificial Turf Fields.” The dominos are falling, and class action suits against communities are increasing nationwide.

Studies by reputable scientists and laboratories, i.e., those not funded by the fossil fuel or plastics industry, are clear that materials in AT contain carcinogens. When children are exposed to this day after day, week after week, the chances of dangerous health issues are increased, and the serious effects to our air, land and water are frightfully imminent.

As a community, how much risk to our children’s health and our local environment are we willing to tolerate in the name of field time?  As a concerned citizen with three grandsons currently in Greenwich public schools, there is only one answer… none.