Letter: Greenwich Sports Programs Need to Focus on Safe Fields, Not the Bottom Line

Open letter to  OGRCC and GSA Boards of Directors from “Real Grass for Healthy Kids” Arthur Yee, MD, Jude Braunstein, Warren Silver and Susan Rudolph

Dear OGRCC and GSA Boards of Directors:

We are grateful for the good work of the OGRCC and GSA done on behalf of the community. While we are confident you would agree the welfare of the children and participants of all ages must be given the highest priority, we are deeply concerned that OGRCC and GSA are more highly focused on hours of field play time and loss of revenue as a result of fewer participants rather than on the long-term health and well-being of Greenwich’s kids.

With the threat of declining revenue from program services, the OGRCC ($2.1 million, 2016 revenue) and GSA ($480,000, 2016 revenue) have taken a strong position in favor of artificial turf as families complain about lack of play time due to weather.

Money is a compelling motivator, and it is therefore understandable why you have taken a favorable position for artificial turf over natural grass.

Even though OGRCC is a not-for-profit agency, and aside from needing to cover salaries of permanent staff, other employees, and some overhead, we question the decision to focus on revenue from members over what’s best for those who are on the playing fields. This includes the welfare of the residents of Greenwich and the environment.

To be clear, we understand this frustration, which is why we support the need for more fields for student activities. We are opposed, however, to the use of artificial (synthetic) turf at Greenwich Middle Schools. In searching 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 of our children’s, or anyone’s, health.

We have been in close contact with numerous academics, scientists, physicians and health professionals who have provided us with the background that lead to our position of supporting only natural grass fields at schools.

• The EPA, CDC and OSHA have all provided health warnings when playing on or working with artificial turf.

• 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 with either crumb rubber infill or other “organic” infill are safe. Studies that claim otherwise have been shown to be deficient or misleading, or they do not take into account the synergistic health effects of exposures to many toxic chemicals at the same time, nor to the danger to children’s developing cells and anatomy. Many of the studies often do not discuss all routes of exposure (touching, breathing, ingesting) when coming to their conclusions.

• Scientists know that chemicals and carcinogens (including lead and zinc) contained in artificial/synthetic turf can enter the human body by direct contact with the skin and eye mucous membrane, by swallowing bits of the materials, and also by inhaling the aerosolized toxic carcinogenic chemical dust/gas produced as the artificial turf fields break down with use and with heat exposure during warm weather use.

• From Children’s Environmental Health Center of Mount Sinai, May 2017, Artificial Turf: A Health-Based Consumer Guide:

– “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.”

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

We know that artificial turf has been installed in numerous communities 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.

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?

From day one, the goal of our group has been twofold: to redesign Greenwich Middle School grass fields so they have proper drainage and can support more hours of usage; and second, 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.

The BoE and Greenwich’s public servants have a moral obligation to act in the best interest of our children, to protect all those in the Greenwich Public Schools system and to ensure the safety of public health.

The same message must be addressed to OGRCC and GSA. Despite the uncertainties and inconveniences caused by inclement weather, real grass is the healthier alternative for our children. Until independent studies can prove that artificial turf is safe, it is hard to understand why we adults would be willing to risk the health of anyone in the community, 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
Arthur Yee, MD
Jude Braunstein
Warren Silver
Susan Rudolph