LETTER: The Board of Education Has Stacked the Deck

Letter to the editor submitted January 16, 2019 from Real Grass for Healthy Kids: Jude Braunstein, Bryan Tunney, Liane Tel, Arthur Yee, MD, Susan Rudolph and Warren Silver

Can a company specializing in the design of artificial turf fields be expected to objectively lead a feasibility study to determine whether real grass should be replaced with artificial turf?

To most the answer would be “no.” There is clearly a conflict of interest here, one that lacks the independent, unbiased scrutiny required to make an informed decision.

Yet, the Greenwich Board of Education has hired Milone & MacBroom, Inc (MMI), an engineering firm specializing in the design of artificial turf fields, to undertake a feasibility study regarding the installation of artificial turf on Greenwich’s Central Middle School field.

The question is not if MMI is qualified. They are a well-known engineering firm with over 30 years’ experience. However, based on their in-house 2008 study (a study that has been questioned about its design and conclusions by Environmental and Human Health, Inc., a science based 501(c)(3) organization composed of physicians, public health professionals and policy experts), MMI believes artificial turf poses no risk to public health.

But, the matter most troubling is the duplicity and disingenuous behavior of the Board of Education.

First Selectman Peter Tesei supports the continued use of natural grass and has stated this position on record multiple times. In the Town of Greenwich Capital Improvement Plan (TOG CIP) dated January 16, 2018, Mr. Tesei requested the planning and design of a natural grass field.

In February 2018, the BoE changed Mr. Tesei’s capital request from grass to synthetic turf, and in March 2018, they selected Central Middle School to be the first middle school to be artificially turfed.

Under questioning during an April 2018 District 8 RTM meeting they said no school was selected. Following that, the BoE issued talking points claiming no decision had been made about grass or artificial turf. Based on the CIP, this is not true.

While Mr. Tesei’s position is clear, the same cannot be said for the BoE.

On August 22, 2018, the BoE’s instructions to MMI included in the Scope of Service is “… to convert the existing natural grass athletic fields into lighted synthetic turf fields at Central Middle School.”

This despite the fact that the BoE has continuously stated they are exploring all options.

It would seem the BoE along with Parks and Recreation have already made a decision, and they are now pushing their agenda forward by hiring a company whose findings will inevitably and predictably support artificial turf.

Should that in fact be their recommendation, we would have trouble accepting it, as Milone and MacBroom are known advocates for the very thing they have been hired to evaluate.

We stand by this statement even more emphatically when considering their position against the independent findings by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and OSHA, all of whom have issued health warnings about artificial turf.

Does the Greenwich BoE believe they are more knowledgeable than these respected agencies?

A recent alarming report issued by the Children’s Environmental Health Center of Mount Sinai, May 2017, Artificial Turf: A Health-Based Consumer Guide includes:

“Although we believe that the presence of cancer-causing agents and other known toxins in recycled rubber playing surfaces is sufficient reason to mandate the use of safer alternatives, we recognize the need for further scientific study.”

Regarding organic infill: “Insufficient data on chemical exposures due to limited studies that assess composition, off-gassing, leaching and associated potential health effects.”

In November 2018, we delivered to the First Selectman, BET, RTM & BoE a petition with more than 1,600 residents’ signatures strongly opposing artificial turf at our middle schools. That number continues to grow with nearly 2,000 signatures.

In December, the Board of Education withdrew its funding request of $4.7M for the installation of artificial turf at Central Middle School in financial year 2019-2020. This would seem to be good news. However, their budget spreadsheet states “Central Middle School Field improvements $4,700,000 can be deferred to a future year” implying they do not understand or have chosen to disregard the warnings of professionals in the fields of science and medicine.

Over the past nineteen months, 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 and well-being of our children and public health at large; however, their actions seem to be to the contrary.

For more details please visit our website: http://bit.ly/RealGrassinGreenwich, and if you agree, we invite you to sign the petition.

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

Attachments:  Milone&MacBroom_BoardofEducationContract