Open Letter to OGRCC: Children’s Health is Non-negotiable!

Submitted by Real Grass for Healthy Kids! Jude Braunstein, Susan Rudolph, David Rudolph, Warren Silver, Liane Tel, Bryan Tunney, Ellen Wolfson MD, Arthur Yee MD

Dear OGRCC Board of Directors and Participating Families:

We are grateful for the good work the OGRCC has done and continues to do on behalf of the community. We understand and appreciate the delicate balance the OGRCC manages in ensuring there is sufficient playtime against a shortage of playable fields in Greenwich, and we share these concerns.

We agree Greenwich does not have enough well-maintained and playable fields to accommodate the growing demand for organized sports.

Where we differ is in how to support the many sporting families in our community, of which we are a part. We do not believe putting artificial turf on our middle school fields is the answer.

There is irrefutable evidence that artificial turf compromises the long-term health and well-being of Greenwich’s kids and the community at large.

We understand and appreciate that OGRCC has financial obligations and the need to keep participating families happy. At the same time, we are confident that when armed with the facts, you would agree that our children’s welfare must be given priority above all else, and the use of artificial turf is not in line with that commitment.

We believe you have failed to consider that young children are more vulnerable to the health effects of toxic environmental exposures. We are also concerned there seems to be a lack of understanding of the environmental impact that happens during the manufacturing of this toxic product, the water and antibacterial sprays required to maintain this product and the lack of environmentally responsible disposal of this product after its eight to ten-year life-cycle. There is also concern about the decomposing of toxic materials into the water table and air that occurs during its usable lifespan.

We can only infer the demands and pressures of programming and scheduling are your motivators, and why you have taken the position that favors artificial turf over natural grass.

We find it questionable and disconcerting that leaders of OGRCC, a facility located in eastern Greenwich, is trying to influence the decision about the playing fields at Central Middle School located in the Cos Cob neighborhood. Do you understand that advocating for artificial turf means CMS parents lose the option to allow their children to be continually exposed to toxic chemicals and carcinogens or not

As we search for a resolution to the situation, it is paramount we keep in mind that increased hours of play time should NOT come at the risk to our children and public health.

If you agree, then all the more reason to be working with us to install properly designed and managed natural grass fields at our elementary and middle schools.  What a perfect marketing platform that would provide for OGRCC!  “Safe fields for our children!” Parents would find that reassuring and commendable.

Setting the Record Straight Again: There is a belief that science and new turf formulations have made artificial turf safe and/or acceptable.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) all reject that notion.

To date there have been no long-term studies by any government, medical, or entity not subsidized by the artificial turf industry that can unconditionally state artificial turf fields are safe.  The marketing and PR from the artificial turf industry is extensive and persuasive to the uninformed reader.  The purveyors of artificial systems cleverly spin the descriptions and scientific data to promote the perception that their product is safe.

Artificial turf is made up of at least three major parts. These layers include (a) fake grass made of polyethylene or nylon, (b) polyester turf backing with its polyurethane coating onto which the blades of artificial grass are fixed and (c) infill. All contain known carcinogens. 

As for alternative infill (sometimes called plant-based infill or PBIs), there is a lack of transparency. Researchers point out, for example, that the growing methodology and possible chemical treatment in prior use is undisclosed, misleading or grossly exaggerated. No long-term study on the effects of children inhaling PBIs has ever been conducted.

Dr. Robert Wright, Director, and Sarah Evans, PhD and Assistant Professor Environmental Pediatrics from Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center wrote in a letter to the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) last year:

“The proposed turf fields at Greenwich middle schools would be utilized by a population that is exquisitely vulnerable to the health effects of toxic environmental exposures. This vulnerability is due to a number of factors including, but not limited to, children’s unique physiology and behaviors, rapidly developing organ systems, and immature detoxification mechanisms. Additionally, because of their young age, children have more future years of life and therefore more time to develop chronic diseases.”   

They concluded their memo as follows: “We urge the town of Greenwich to maintain natural grass fields at the public schools in order to protect the health of the children of your community.” 

We know that artificial turf has been installed in numerous communities and institutions because it satisfies a need to conduct sports programs in inclement weather.  However, long term studies of exposure to the plastic mat and blades of “grass” along with infill have not been able to show the product is safe.

Recently PFAS chemicals have been identified in artificial turf. The presence of these chemicals, associated with multiple health problems including cancer, raises more concerns about exposure to an additional group of troubling chemicals while playing on the fields.  Some turf manufacturers claim they have discontinued their use of PFAS, but it is critical to know there are thousands of PFAS chemicals that scientists don’t even have tests for at this time.

The following questions are key:

  • How can we, as a lay community, assert that artificial turf is safe and an acceptable alternative to natural grass when the scientific community has not been able to demonstrate its safety for people, animals or the environment?
  • Part of good governance on behalf of the entire community is gathering facts and knowledge to make informed decisions. In the instance of artificial turf, how can we ask our elected officials to put field time ahead of public health?
  • As a community, how much risk to our children’s health are we willing to tolerate in the name of field time?

After considering all the available information, both our current and former First Selectmen Fred Camillo and Peter Tesei answered those questions. They are very clear that they support natural grass over artificial turf at our middle schools.

From day one, the goal of our group has been twofold: (1) to redesign Greenwich Middle School grass fields so they have proper drainage and can support more hours of usage; and (2) to increase the number of natural grass playing fields in Greenwich, fields that are designed by accredited professionals and cared for by trained and certified maintenance staff.

Until independent studies can prove that artificial turf is safe, it is hard to understand why our community would be willing to risk the health of anyone, especially that of our children. That is why we are working diligently to keep “real” grass fields at our Middle Schools.

Real Grass for Healthy Kids!
Jude Braunstein
Susan Rudolph
David Rudolph
Warren Silver
Liane Tel
Bryan Tunney
Ellen Wolfson, MD
Arthur Yee, MD