I begin these comments with the central point of my message. I am opposed to artificial turf playing fields, chiefly for health reasons.
I believe that mounting evidence demonstrates that the plastic blades, the crumb rubber infill, and other additives contain hazardous chemicals and heavy metals that are especially harmful to children and to adults with compromised immune systems.
Our current artificial turf field is going on six years old, with a realistic total life expectancy of eight to ten years. As with all such fields, it is naturally degrading due to weather and normal usage. The stress of sun, heat, cold, rain, and snow, along with the pounding of feet and bodies break down the plastic and rubber, creating dust and vapor that are released into the air and can be inhaled, ingested, and absorbed into the skin.
What chemicals are contained in that dust and vapor? Some we know and some we don’t know, because artificial turf is an unregulated industry. For now.
Other communities are insisting on rigorous testing of these playing fields for lead and other toxins. Other communities have placed warning signs at artificial turf fields, alerting parents to the dangers presented by abnormally high field temperatures and listing guidelines for protecting children who play on those fields.
The marketing effort lead by the turf industry is slick, and targeted, and simple. We have all heard the bumper sticker messages:
It’s time to respect and honor our student athletes.
We owe it to our student athletes to provide them with the full student athlete experience.
We need to finally be on a par with teams from surrounding communities.
Who would argue with these emotionally charged demands for plain old-fashioned fairness?
Last May and June, our School Committee’s Athletic Sub-Committee bought this argument, hook, line, and sinker. They recommended that a new artificial turf field be placed somewhere in Watertown.
Across the country, the record shows that without an honest community conversation about the potential health consequences of artificial turf playing fields, the industry wins every time. Simply put, the health argument gets swept aside, while convenience of scheduling becomes the be-all and end-all for coaches and recreation departments.
I am betting that Watertown is a smarter community. I have a lot more to say on this subject, so I will be back.
(These remarks were made to the Town Council on Tuesday)