LETTER: Is the Board of Education Stacking the Deck…Again?

Letter to the editor from “Real Grass for Healthy Kids” – Jude Braunstein, Liane Tel, Arthur Yee MD, Susan Rudolph and Warren Silver

Several months back, we asked this question when the Board of Education retained Milone and MacBroom to undertake a feasibility study regarding the installation of artificial turf on all of Greenwich’s middle school fields starting with Central Middle School (CMS).

We had strong concerns about this appointment and questioned whether we could realistically expect a company specializing in the design of artificial/synthetic turf fields to objectively lead a feasibility study to determine whether real grass should be replaced with artificial turf.

The question is not if Milone & MacBroom (MMI) is reputable. In fact, it is a highly regarded civil engineering firm with over 30 years’ experience. Rather, the question is why did the Board of Education engage a company whose conclusion on this issue is foregone? In addition, why is the BoE so intent on converting grass to artificial turf at our middle schools when available health and safety information SHOULD direct responsible leaders to a position of caution rather than possibly putting our children and the environment at serious long-term harm?

A recent statement from MMI’s Central Middle School soil report says, “The current plans for the field reconstruction call for the installation of a synthetic turf playing surface.“ The BoE can’t have it both ways; namely claiming they haven’t decided between artificial turf and grass, yet instructing their consultant MMI to plan for reconstruction using artificial turf. The duplicity and disingenuous behavior of the Board of Education is extremely troubling.

There is some good news that came out of the MMI study. There are no toxins in the CMS soil, and therefore no reason to remove real grass and replace it with artificial turf. Digging into the ground and adding proper drainage can be done without concern that we are creating another Western Middle School fiasco.

A new joint committee comprised of town and school officials dedicated to improving the athletic fields in Greenwich was recently formed. They will be putting out a request for proposals in order to hire a company to study the condition of all the community’s fields. (One can only hope the $150,000 budgeted earlier for an initial study of the Central Middle School
soil conditions will not be made redundant.) We urge the joint committee to be transparent in their search for a firm and to consider only those with a portfolio that reflects an expertise in and record of both improving the condition of existing grass fields as well as installing new, natural grass ones.

For the past several years we have been troubled by the Board of Education’s disregard of the compelling and independent research on the public dangers of artificial turf, particularly the dangers to young children. The artificial turf industry itself issues cautions when playing on these fields as does the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control
(CDC) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).

Research from widely respected and independent bodies such as the Children’s Environmental Health Center of Mount Sinai Hospital, National Center for Health Research, Washington, DC, Toxic Action Center, Boston, MA, and Yale University scientists in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences all agree that the cancer-causing toxins in artificial turf are unhealthy for people, particularly children in their developmental years.

Artificial turf comprised of fake grass blades and the backing is a fossil-fuel-derived plastic product with serious life-cycle issues from manufacture to disposal. As we eliminate single use plastic bags and straws, do we simply ignore the fact that one worn out artificial turf field adds 40,000 pounds of plastic and infill into landfill?

How can the Board of Education even consider removing natural grass and replacing it with surfaces that contain known carcinogens and cause havoc to the environment? Why does the Board of Education turn a deaf ear to the public outcry against artificial turf?

There is a belief that the debate about installing artificial turf at our middle schools has quieted. Rest assured it has not. We will continue to demand that the Board of Education be held accountable for its actions, and we will continue to demand that the Board of Education prioritize the well-being of children and our environment.

The First Selectman, BET, RTM and BoE should know that the approximately 2,500 Greenwich residents of voting age who have signed the petition opposing artificial turf at our middle schools stand firm. For more details, please visit our website: http://bit.ly/RealGrassinGreenwich, and if you agree, we invite you to sign the petition.

Over the past two years, the Board of Education has been misleading and evasive about their position on artificial turf for middle school fields. As public servants they have been entrusted by Greenwich residents to make informed, independent, objective decisions when it comes to the safety of our children and public health at large; however, their actions seem to be to the contrary.

We have not gone quiet, rather we allowed time for the process to unfold, hoping objectivity and reason would prevail. It has not. We are back.

Real Grass for Healthy Kids
Jude Braunstein
Liane Tel
Arthur Yee, MD
Susan Rudolph
Warren Silver