Real Grass for Healthy Kids: Open Letter to Greenwich’s Future Selectmen Re Artificial Turf

Open Letter to Greenwich’s Future Selectmen – Re Artificial Turf from Real Grass for Healthy Kids… Arthur Yee MD, Jude Braunstein, Liane Tel Susan Rudolph, Warren Silver

Peter Tesei is very clear that he supports natural grass over artificial turf at our middle schools. He has stated his position on record multiple times.

The important question is where do you stand? Are you pro artificial turf or pro real grass for our middle schools?

Our Position: As parents, grandparents and Greenwich residents, we understand the frustration of not having sufficient playing field availability to meet the needs of our community, which is why we support the need for more fields for local activities. However, we strongly oppose development of fields with artificial turf at any of our middle and elementary schools.

Why We Oppose Artificial Turf at Middle and Elementary Schools: Young children are more vulnerable to the health effects of toxic environmental exposures. Holding sports and gym time on artificial turf fields means parents lose their choice whether or not their kids
will be continually exposed to toxic chemicals as well as carcinogens.

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) earlier this 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.”

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 uniformed 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 by Anyone: In addition, organic infills contain silica sand, identified by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) as a Class I carcinogen. OSHA also classifies silica as a hazardous material. Organic infill marketing is not certified by the USDA (United State Department of Agriculture) and is unregulated.

Consider the Environment: Artificial turf releases more greenhouse gases in its production, installation, maintenance and eventual disposal processing than the maintenance of natural grass ever could.

How can the town that eliminated single-use plastic bags and is a national model of good environmental stewardship consider installing acres and acres of plastic fields? These two community-driven concepts are antithetical to each other.

How can the town with advocates seeking to ban plastic straws in an effort to reduce residents’ exposure to plastics and to protect the environment agree to synthetic fields? These are the fields upon which our young children would play hours each day. It makes no sense.

Yet, this is exactly what the Board of Education (BoE) is advocating.

Patricia Taylor, Director of the Plastics Project for Environment and Human Health, Inc., commented on behalf of Environment and Human Health, Inc. of North Haven, CT: “As the State of Connecticut as well as many individual Connecticut towns have worked, and continue to work, to reduce plastic uses, it is important for people to understand that when they ask for a new synthetic turf field they are asking their town or their schools to put down acres and acres of plastic.”

The green “grass” of a synthetic turf field is simply plastic, and the blades of plastic grass are only held up because the plastic field is infilled with either crumb rubber or some other infill that holds the plastic blades upright.

The large amount of plastic used in synthetic turf fields is yet another reason why Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI) has continued to say, “There is no better surface for students and athletes to play on than natural grass.”

Over 10 years ago, a Greenwich Environmental Action Task Force study (Artificial Turf Presentation to the Board of Selectmen, Thursday, February 26, 2009) itemized the potential risks of artificial turf. They included “contributes to global warming” under the Environment Impact section. Why are we ignoring the data? Why are we dragging our feet?

Young people are virtually shouting that we are failing to address the climate crisis. As the young Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg said recently, “The main solution however is so simple that even a small child can understand it. We have to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases. And either we do that or we don’t. You say nothing in life is black or white but that is a lie, a very dangerous lie. Either we prevent a 1.5 degree of warming or we don’t. Either we avoid setting off that irreversible chain reaction beyond the human control, or we don’t. Either we choose to go on as a civilization or we don’t. That is as black or white as it gets.”

Some Recommendations:
1. Redesign Greenwich middle school grass fields so they have proper drainage and can support more hours of usage.
2. Buy land in back country or some other desired location and build more sports fields.
3. Be responsible. “Think globally, act locally!”

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