LETTER: Are More Artificial Turf Fields a Win for Watertown and the Planet?

Print More

The following letter is in response to the Town Council’s recent approval of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Town of Watertown and Buckingham Browne & Nichols School to share share fields — the new artificial turf fields planned by the school on Grove Street and the fields at Filippello Park.

Dear Watertown,

For more than a decade, the artificial turf industry’s campaign to convince
municipalities, private schools, colleges and universities to build new artificial turf playing fields and to replace existing grass playing fields with artificial turf has grown steadily and has been highly successful.

What has also grown is public opposition to this high powered, highly profitable, and often dishonest campaign. The industry’s claim that artificial turf has been proven to be safe for student athletes and for the general public is untrue.

When public input is kept out of the decision-making process, the industry almost always wins. Why? Because they strategically enlist respected members of the community: coaches, athletic directors, town boosters, and alumni to bang home the message that without being given the artificial turf “advantage” our student athletes are being short-changed and disrespected.

But, when the public is allowed to enter the conversation, the outcome is a
different matter. It is usually from members of the public that the issues of
health, safety, and the environment are put on the table, forcing decision-makers to consider the consequences of buying a product, based on a one-sided sales proposition.

The green in artificial turf comes from chemicals, lead, and other dangerous toxins. The durability comes from other chemicals. On hot, sunny days the temperature of artificial turf can reach 10 to 20 degrees hotter than the air temperature, while grass fields may be 2 or 3 degrees cooler than the air temperature.

What is the health effect of extreme heat and direct sun on the chemicals being released from the plastic field? How vulnerable are children with undeveloped immune systems and adults with compromised immune systems? What damage is being done to the environment? The industries answer can be summed up as: Everything is fine. You can’t prove otherwise.

In 2014, the Watertown Recreation Department’s plan to turn the Victory Field oval into artificial turf brought out several hundred residents who made their opposition perfectly clear. Their opposition was based on the growing body of evidence that plastic playing fields were unhealthy, unsafe, and harmful to the environment. Town Councilors and town management representatives were present at those meetings. Subsequently, the Town Council decreed that there would be no artificial turf on the Victory Field oval.

Since that time, the case against artificial turf has continued to grow.

What happens when artificial turf deteriorates to the point that it needs to be replaced? Vendors usually “guarantee” that the old plastic carpets will be
recycled. There are currently no recycling facilities in the U.S. that accept artificial turf and shipping the toxic trash to an overseas recycling facility is financially prohibitive.

So, contractors hire other contractors to take the disposal problem off their

The average artificial turf field weighs 40,000 pounds. The infill required to soften the field and prop up the plastic blades can weigh as much as 400,000 pounds. Where will it all go?

Reports continue to come in of these used-up fields being illegally dumped on remote public land, or in vacant lots. In other cases, cash-strapped landowners are paid for allowing it to be dumped on their land. But most of it will end up in landfill, where financially struggling municipalities charge a fee to accept the toxic trash.

Artificial turf playing fields are expected to last for about 8 to 10 years. When Watertown’s current artificial turf field is ripped up and replaced (hopefully as a state of the art natural grass field) — which will happen in the not so distant future — it is likely to end up in a “mystery location,” where it will become someone else’s problem, where these non-biodegradable chemicals will continue poisoning air, earth, and water forever.

Here is what we know about the climate crisis. Summers will only get longer and hotter, making artificial turf more toxic, while open grassy areas will become even more treasured. The increased frequency of extreme rainstorms will guarantee more toxic runoff into rivers and streams.

In enlightened communities all across the country, where experts testify, and informed citizens weigh-in, artificial turf initiatives are rejected. The town of Sharon, Massachusetts is a great example.

The Sharon School Committee requested that artificial turf be installed on the high school football field. In June 2020, after a year-long battle, led by a citizens’ opposition group, the Sharon Conservation Commission voted to deny installation, based on potential contamination of surrounding land and water.

The project team, advocating for installing the artificial turf, argued that there was no proof that such contamination was likely. The Commission’s response was that the burden of proof should not be placed on the Commission but instead should fall to the project team to prove the environmental safety of placing the plastic field on the designated site. And, since artificial turf manufacturers consider their recipe of chemicals to be a proprietary secret, no compelling proof of safety could be offered.

The Commission Chair, Peg Arguimbau, shared some of the relevant public input. The Commission received 77 emails against plastic turf and 23 emails in favor. Those who opposed artificial turf cited health, safety, and environmental concerns. Those in favor of artificial turf cited the need for field space and hours of usage.

That approximate 3-to-1 ratio, along with the reasons cited, resemble the
community response during the public testimonies at the Victory Field hearings of 2014.

What I would like to ask the members of the Sharon School Committee, who put forward the request for artificial turf on their high school football field, is:

What are you teaching your students?

Do you think that your kids are happily unaware of the pollution being pumped into their earth, their air, and their water, contaminating their food sources and compromising their health?

Or, were you just acquiescing to the loudest voices in the room?

And, this is what I would ask of our town government:

Did those who made the deal with BB&N truly fight for the health and welfare of all Watertown residents?

Did they decide that one more assault on our environment would be overlooked because it would be tucked away in a corner of our town, or because it blocked the possibility of a developer building yet another apartment complex, hotel, or biotech facility?

Or did they just accept the deal on the table and then call it a day?

Finally, why does the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between BB&N and Watertown state “… The Cooperative Agreement will expand access to open green space for active recreation use by the children and adults in Watertown and other nearby communities and by the students of BB&N…”, yet the Partnership Agreement between BB&N and Watertown indicate two multi-purpose synthetic fields?” See the Town Council Agenda, November 24, 2020, for these documents:

We might never know because we were not there. Public involvement, also
known as democracy, can definitely be messy, but without it, even the best
representatives can be tempted to opt for a shortcut that disregards the wish of the voters and ignores the reality of the environmental crisis all of us must face.

Do you agree that we are entitled to answers before this MOU is finalized? If so, please leave a comment on Watertown News.

With warm regards to all,
Elodia Thomas
We Are All Watertown

52 thoughts on “LETTER: Are More Artificial Turf Fields a Win for Watertown and the Planet?

  1. Sharon High School abuts Massapoag Brook and Lake. Also, there are residents close by that depend on well water. The site off of Grove actually housed an incinerator years ago the land there is probably a mess to begin with.

    • The health and safety dangers to children and the environmental damage artificial turf causes are not negated by the fact that “the land there is probably a mess.” How does that statement help either children or the environment?

  2. Elodia, this letter is spot on. Artificial turf is an environmental disaster and seems to pose significant health risks as well. Add to that, increased risk of injury for athletes.

    There is a reason that pro teams of all sports have been moving away from AT. That is to protect their multi-million dollar properties (players).

    Yet, it seems that the Town government simply wants to declare this deal a win and move on before it can be closely scrutinized. Sorry, an artificial turf field is hardly “green space.”

    This would never survive a referendum, no matter who thinks it is good for the town. In the long run, it is a loser, for many reasons.

  3. Not completely true, Fred. The incinerator was located on Town property that is currently the entrance to the park off of Grove Street. The BB&N site was occupied by a junk yard and a cement batch plant prior to its purchase by the Mount Auburn Cemetery. Although not abutting a wetland, it is not far from the Charles River. That is where the groundwater from the site ends up.
    With our current Stormwater Ordinance, all the stormwater on the site needs to be infiltrated, if there is no subsurface contamination. So the stormwater from the fields will be directed to the groundwater that eventually makes it to the river. How much of the contaminants from the field that actually get to the river is dependent upon the filtering done by the soils between the source (the infiltration gallery) and the river.
    With regard to artificial turf fields, the City of Springfield has one artificial turf field. All the other fields are grass. The director of the fields is a proponent of natural grass fields and with all the use that his fields take, he has made it work. There is effort and the need to repair high use areas, but the he believes the benefits of a natural grass field outweigh the risks from an artificial field. Springfield does have more fields per capita than Watertown, so Mr. Sullivan (Springfield’s Director of Facilities) is able to rotate his fields to rest and restore high use damage. For us, a grass field would be considerably work to maintain since we do not extra fields so one can sit out a season to recover. But as Mr. Sullivan has figured out a naturally maintained grass field is better than an artificial turf field.

    • Leo,
      Your information is inaccurate as well. Springfield has more than 1 turf field. Private institutions, similar to BB&N, (like Springfield College, American International College) have artificial turf fields within Springfield’s borders. Also, if Watertown utilized the field use plan Springfield has, we’d have to cancel some sports and have kids sitting on the sidelines. The resting and rotating for grass fields you’re talking about do not meet the needs our community. For comparison purposes, the Springfield case studies ask towns to comparing their local field to Treetop Field. Treetop Field is a locked field used for soccer only. It is only available for only 23 hours per week in the Spring. Only 23 hours a week is anemic!
      Victory Field’s artificial turf is open for use 28 hours in a weekend alone. Your solution to eliminate artificial turf fields doesn’t meet the needs of the residents of Watertown. Springfield clearly isn’t meeting the needs of it’s residents either. The city just put forth a proposal to build another public artificial turf field near Duggan Academy…

      • Thanks for your information, I was referring to Springfield’s City-owned fields and I was unaware of the new field proposed. UMASS Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute studied Springfield’s fields and indicated the following: Springfield’s organic management of natural grass has eliminated the need for pesticides, while providing a practical playing surface that fully meets the needs of athletes and others who use the parks. The Parks Department also notes that their field management choices help to protect water quality in the Connecticut River. This case study provides detailed information on the number of hours played at three parks in Springfield: two large complexes and one single, full-sized soccer field. Communities wishing to estimate the number of playable hours on a soccer field can use Treetop Park, the full-sized soccer field, as the most relatable model of the three parks discussed here. Treetop Park is used for approximately 1,050 hours of practice, play, and informal activity annually. Their report was issued in 2018.

  4. There are so many reasons to oppose artificial turf. For example, one of the grievances made by the US Women’s National Soccer Team is that they have to play on artificial turf, while the Men’s team plays on grass.

  5. I’ve never been a huge fan of artificial turf for many of the same reasons Elodia mentioned.
    I’m also not convinced that artificial turf is safer just in terms of the surface being harder and kids getting more injuries, that might not get on grass on dirt.

    Call me old fashion… but kids oughta play on grass and dirt. It’s natural. Everything we do is so damn synthetic. Heck kids don’t even talk to each other anymore when they’re standing next to each other. They text each other. Because of the virus, they haven’t been able to gather…. it’s all virtual…. So Pete’s sake… forgive if me if I sound like stick in the mud… kids oughta play on grass and dirt.

    • Has anyone ever done a study of the health hazards of the excrement from the 100s of Canadian geese that take up residency on all of our grass fields? Serious question. This is equally as concerning to me as the hazards of artificial turf are.

  6. This letter makes some excellent points. The town did reject artificial turf for Victory Field and nothing has changed since then. I would like to see this sentiment reflected in our agreement with BBN, and insist on natural turf. I would be curious to know what BBN parents think about it.

  7. I strongly agree with Ms. Thomas’ assessment of the use of artificial turf. For the current and future users of this space and for the long-term care of this land, make this a natural turf field. There should be an opportunity for Watertown residents to let the Council hear our opinions before the agreement is signed.

  8. I agree with Ms Thomas’ letter. It’s concerning there apparently was little or no opportunity for public input. I respectfully request information about how this MOU was negotiated and that public comment be allowed before the MOU is finalized.
    I also want to share something about artificial turf fields that may not be common knowledge. When the temperature exceeds 80 degrees AT fields are literally too hot to play on as players can get burned (literally) by the plastic grass. Here in Watertown the artificial turf field at Victory Field is closed on hot days. Every summer I note the days that the artificial turf field sits empty and padlocked because it’s too hot to use. On those same hot days however, I’ll see residents, families, and kids using and enjoying the cool green grass oval on Victory Field. On those days I thank all the residents who back in 2014 shared their concerns and I thank the town officials who listened.

    • Jill

      My daughter just graduated from WHS. She played field hockey and lacrosse. There was never a time in the summer fall or spring when a practice or game was cancelled due to heat. My son also played baseball and I can attest the same thing. Your statement is plainly false. I will tell you that when the grass fields are closed in the winter and with rain the artificial turf is closed. Your statement is simply untrue.

      • Thanks for your reply John and sorry for the misunderstanding but I wasn’t referring to the AT field being closed for games or matches. I’m referring to the summer months (i.e. July and August – not during the school year) when it’s very, very hot and that’s when I’ve observed adults and kids using the grass oval whereas the AT field can’t be used due to the surface being too hot.

        • I know during July and August the high school boys go down to Victory Turf to get ready for the upcoming soccer season, usually first thing in the morning. I would agree that if we had grass similar to what the women’s national soccer team could play on then yes grass would be better. However that would mean spending millions more and also requiring that the only people who could play on it were these organized sports. How many of you would be willing to give up using the victory oval so that all of the youth and high school athletic teams could use it exclusively to prevent wear and tear that inevitably happens when you allow passive recreation on it?

        • FYI – fall sports (soccer, field hockey) have captain’s practices at Victory Field throughout the summer months. Football starts in August. The field is not locked due to excessive temps.

          • Aren’t these so called “Captain’s Practices” in violation of MIAA rules for practicing well before a season begins? The Captains Practices have been used to get around this.

            Watertown doesn’t seem to always play by the rules in regards to some of the sports.

    • I coached soccer for a few years and a couple of them we practiced and played exclusively on the turf we never had a practice or game that got cancelled due heat and certainly never had a player literally get burned from the turf due to the heat. I do remember plenty of practices and game on grass that were cancelled due to an unplayable field.

  9. I also agree with Ms. Thomas. She has brought up so many very valid issues regarding this agreement.

    If this is to be a shared field then the residents of Watertown should have a say in what type of field is there. There is just way too much information about the health risks of artificial turf out there for us to ignore.

    Lastly, over the years our TC and TM have made some lousy decisions for the residents of Watertown and at this point I have little faith in what they do.

    • Watertown Parent,
      Can you share an article or a study that proves there is a definitive link between artificial turf and health risks in our children? Are you also aware that our town continues to use pesticides on our grass fields. Have you seen recently that Roundup has paid out billions in lawsuits since it’s been caused to find health issues.?

  10. Artificial turf is so unwelcome in professional sports that the right to play on natural turf is a chief component of the settlement just arrived at between the US Soccer League and the Women’s National Team.

    “Among the most notable changes under the proposed settlement is a requirement that ‘matches be played on grass in almost all circumstances.’ The women’s team has been fighting for years to put an end to matches played on artificial surfaces — a condition with which the men’s team rarely contends.” (NPR, Dec. 1, 2020)

    BB&N and Watertown Town Council, please pay attention to what the WNT fought long and hard for, and to the facts Elodia Thomas lays out in her letter. Natural turf is hugely preferred by professional players. Artificial turf is terrible for the environment, both during its usage lifetime and afterward.

    Our young teams should not have to compete on a dangerous, noxious industrial layer when natural turf is practical and achievable. (BB&N should visit Springfield to see how this is done.) Watertown’s town government should insist on natural turf in this precious open space in Watertown’s East End.

    • Libby Shaw,
      Peter Centola has collected testimonials that are on file on the town website under the Recreation Dept. folder. These testimonials from almost every single youth and high school coachare all in favor of a second turf field. I have also pointed out that Springfield is bringing another public turf field online because Mr Sullivan only allows 23 hours per week of soccer practice on his fields. If these fields are grass and we shared with BB&N that would mean Watertown would get a measly 12.5 hours per week in practice time. Please do your homework. You seem uninformed as to what our local youth sports have been asking for here. Your implication that BB&N is installing a surface that it’s users don’t want is false.

  11. John,
    You are wrong. Watertown does not use pesticides or Roundup. Watertown has been practicing organic field management for at least 4-5 years. We have talented people in our town town and the surrounding area who know how to build healthy grass fields with proper irrigation, drainage, seed mix, aeration, and organic fertilizers.

    John, be aware – Monsanto, the company that brought the toxic Agent Orange to Vietnam and Roundup to gardens and yards, is one of the original manufactures of Astro Turf. artificial turf. It’s bloodlines have now been crossed with other companies e.g., Balsam AG, SouthWest Recreational Industries, Inc., Textile ManagementAssociates, Inc., American Sports Products Group, Inc., and SportGroup Holding. Public health company has never a high priority for this company. Lawsuits abound to this day.

    Anyone concerned about our natural environment, toxic trash, global warming, and simply “doing the right thing now” for the health of people, wildlife, and the planet should read this article: “The Dangerous Pileup of Artificial Turf” Recycling Scrap Tires Into Synthetic Turf Was Supposed To Be An Environmental Win at https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/12/artificial-turf-fields-are-piling-no-recycling-fix/603874/.

    John, I also urge you to learn more about artificial plastic fields. SynTurf.org is a forum dedicated to educating the public and disseminating information regarding the environmental and health risks associated with artificial/synthetic turf fields.

    Finally John, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) recommends a standard of 10 acres of open green space per 1,000 people. Watertown is subpar at 3.25 acres per 1,000 people. Why should plastic carpet for students [BB&N = 1,038 students in grades Pre-K to 12; Watertown = 2,526 students Pre-K to 12] and youth sports take precedence over healthy green grass which benefits all 36,000 people in our community?

    Does anyone believe that this deal between Mount Auburn Cemetery and BB&N demonstrates their “…shared desire to be good stewards of this parcel of land and assure that its transfer would offer a maximum benefit to both our entities and the broader community…” ? Where was the broad Watertown support that has been mentioned? The public discourse? Why was this deal brokered behind closed doors?

    Our Town Council can act now! Pass a regulation – No Artificial Turf in Watertown!


  12. Is there a “definitive” link between record setting West Coast forest fires and climate warming?

    Is there “definitive” proof that wearing masks slows the spread of coronavirus?

    How about cigarette smoking, or lead paint, or asbestos? Can’t we credit “definitive” studies for proving their causation of cancer and other diseases, and thereby greatly reducing our exposure to the toxins these products?

    The answer is no. What saved us then and what saves us now is scientific consensus − which most people have the good sense to acknowledge. If we want to assess the safety of artificial turf, we should look to the scientists, not the coaches, the students, and certainly not the turf industry.

    Fortunately, we do not have to go far to find an internationally respected scientific authority on the toxicity of artificial turf: TURI – Toxics Use Reduction Institute at UMASS Lowell.

    Attached is their fact sheet on artificial turf.

    For anyone who believes that more playing time for student athletes outweighs any health consequences for those same athletes and for the whole community, there is really no point in reading it.

    TURI Fact Sheet https://www.turi.org/content/download/13271/203906/file/Factsheet.Artificial%20Turf.September2020.pdf

  13. Who would have thought turning a parking a lot into an athletic field would have people so upset. I wonder how many of the people commenting here have ever even been to Filipello Park and why putting a field in on the Grove Street side would have people so upset, if they put a grass field there would any of you even go?

    • A grass field benefits the community whether it’s used or not. The same cannot be said for a petrochemical carpet laid near a river.

      • Actually that is not true, having another field that can be used year round and is a great thing for the community whether it’s youth sports or adults playing soccer, lacrosse, flag football, baseball etc. As someone pointed out earlier, the geese sometimes take over the field which render the grass field unplayable.

  14. I feel that Elodia’s letter was spot on and would like to add my voice to those who object to the plans currently in place for BBN’s use of the Watertown land.

  15. I also whole heartedly agree with Elodia’s letter. The planet and our health are being severely compromised by artificial substances such as plastic.

  16. This letter is absolutely correct. The environmental damage from producing and then disposing of these articifical turfs is irresponsible. Also, Watertown already has far too little actual natural spaces for its residents, a living grass field would be much more beneficial to *all* residents for recreational use while still providing for athletics. While they’re at it they should require adding trees to provide more ecosystem benefits, like shade, cleaner air, and temperature mitigation (on both the high and low extremes).

  17. Great comments Elodia and others. I agree that artificial turf is dangerous to players (stiff and rough and carcinogenic) and the environment (dead space for living things, chemical off gassing into the water, and so close to the river). Anything, like sweat, spit, or worse has to be hosed off or it won’t disappear as it would into grass. And, using old numbers, I believe that Watertown paid about $90,000 to prepare the field for the artificial turf at Victory Field here. If we put that much into preparation for grass, one would have to think the drainage and strength of the surface grass would be fabulous. We have seen that some professional and high school teams are changing back to natural turf. We should be challenging the use by BB&N of large expanses of artificial turf in our city, with or without use agreements.
    PS: Why didn’t we buy the property for public use ourselves? Interest rates are low and we need open space and fields.
    Barbara R

  18. I find that the condescending tone in some of the above posts contributes nothing to further this discussion but it may cause others to refrain from participating, furthermore the tone in the posts of “I know, but you don’t” gives the posts by that poster even less credibility.

    The above link with scientific observations are informative and in conjunction with other similar scientific information may be of help to form better informed opinions vs the emotional or anecdotal ones, information on the subject after all is what we all ultimately desire.

    Here is another informative link from “US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health”:

    An excerpt from that article:
    “All synthetic turf fields share the same basic composition, i.e., polyethylene synthetic grass fibers, infill, and carpet backing (Cheng et al., 2014). Crumb rubber is commonly used as the infill material and is mainly produced by fragmentation of scrap vehicle tires (Cheng et al., 2014). It consists of rubber polymer (40–60%), reinforcing agents (e.g., carbon black) (20–35%), aromatic extender oil (≤ 28%), vulcanization additives, antioxidants, antiozonants, and processing aids, such as plasticizers and softeners (Li et al., 2010; Wik and Dave, 2009). The proportional contributions of each constituent depend on the source from which the crumb rubber is manufactured (Cheng et al., 2014). Some of the specific chemicals measured in crumb rubber include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), and metals, such as zinc and lead (Marsili et al., 2014). The focus of concern has been on the crumb rubber infill due to its ubiquitous use, exposure potential, and components which may exert effects that are deleterious to human health.”

    That doesn’t sound all that harmless now does it?

    Have a look at the following 2 minute news clip which coincidentally was just aired today:

    • The tone in the posts? I usually don’t come on here and comment but it seemed pretty one sided so I jumped in and supported the idea as a couple comments asked where the support was. Bottom line BBN is buying this property from Mount Auburn Cemetery so to make this an anti turf issue is beside the point. The MOU was to allow Watertown and BBN to share fields, BBN doesn’t have to offer their fields to Watertown they can just buy it, put up a fence and only allow it for their use.

      • Which is probably going to happen after the field is completed. BBN could care less what the field will be made of just as long as they get hold of the property.

  19. The tone in the posts? I usually don’t come on here and comment but it seemed pretty one sided so I jumped in and supported the idea as a couple comments asked where the support was. Bottom line BBN is buying this property from Mount Auburn Cemetery so to make this an anti turf issue is beside the point. The MOU was to allow Watertown and BBN to share fields, BBN doesn’t have to offer their fields to Watertown they can just buy it, put up a fence and only allow it for their use.

  20. When I was a young field hockey and lacrosse player, perhaps, if asked, I would have said I preferred to play on artificial turf. As a wiser grown up now I deeply appreciate and cherish the natural world and share Elodia Thomas and others’ longer view of what havoc turf fields wreak on the health of athletes and our environment in Watertown. Natural grass fields only, please!

  21. I completely agree with Elodia’s thorough and informative letter. I also appreciate the references to well-documented studies about the hazards of artificial turf.
    In my opinion, whether or not an AT field would give Watertown students more playing time is less important than their health and the need for more natural green space.
    This is an opportunity to educate the public, especially the younger generation, about how to be good stewards of our environment and to have a discussion of community values. Somehow this reminds me of the resistance to changing to clean energy because some jobs or money might be lost in the short term.
    At a minimum, the decision to install another artificial turf field should be discussed in the open by Watertown residents.

  22. I agree with many voices here that Watertown should not have another artificial turf field, for all of the reasons stated above – health, environmental, aesthetic, player safety, athlete choice.
    Also disturbing that this news came out as an announcement, after agreements were in place with BBN. Since this is such a public issue, why were Watertown residents not involved in this process?
    It’s good timing that Watertown is in the midst of a charter review right now. Whatever form of government the town moves forward with, I hope and expect that there will be better transparency, and residents will not be taken by surprise by future decisions like this, made behind closed doors.

  23. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I agree completely with all of the points in Ms. Thomas’ letter and am opposed to any more (or any future) artificial turf in Watertown. Our elected officials and Town leaders we’re in an environmental crisis and there are too many negative health and environment impacts to justify this.

  24. The Mount Auburn Cemetery deserves high praise for selling its Grove Street property for redevelopment primarily as recreational open space. Watertown’s Department of Planning and Community Development also deserves credit for helping to further a partnership to that end. As currently stated, however, the “shared institutional commitment to land stewardship” leaves much to be desired if the two multipurpose playing fields are constructed of artificial turf as proposed. Such redevelopment amounts to the replacement of one biological desert, asphalt, with another.
    All of us want the best for our children, their children, and onward forever. We are currently in the process of ensuring them the best of school buildings for the decades ahead. Artificial turf does not provide them the best of playing fields. In spite of its numerous shortcomings and ill-defined risks, many of us want artificial turf because it permits a relatively high frequency of use and extended season play. Alternative playing fields of natural turf are apparently too scarce in Watertown to meet immediate demand. The opportunity to partially satisfy that demand in the near future with the BB&N proposal has understandably strong appeal. Yielding to that appeal distracts attention from our long-term persistent problem – the lamentable dearth of living green open space for all purposes in town.
    The incipient revolution in public transport driven by Artificial Intelligence presages a future with much reduced need for public parking space. “Robotaxis” in a state of continual service, on call as needed, are expected to replace expansive tarred surfaces now wasted on idle cars. Watertown has reached a stage of overdevelopment that requires us not only to preserve all remnant open space but also to transform existing development into the various kinds of open space desired, space much larger than the two private playing fields BB&N has to offer for sparingly part-time town use. The most likely target in town for future transformation to public open space will be paved areas rather than buildings. Such areas must be earmarked well ahead of time in our formal open-space plans, or they will undergo the usual fate when property changes hands – construction of ambitious private edifices.
    Our long-term goal for public open space expansion in Watertown should include the provision of enough natural turf fields for all users, and less artificial turf, not more. With this view in mind, one of the means to that end should be the transformation of artificial turf back to its natural counterpart.
    With regard to the proposed BB&N project, this ecologist offers two recommendations to town decision-makers:
    1. Urge BB&N to restore life to its new purchase by creating natural turf playing fields, even if this means that the town stands to get no playing time on them.
    2. If BB&N’s current choice of artificial turf proves to be non-negotiable and the town complies, let this choice be subject to regular reconsideration. Watertown’s partnership agreement with BB&N will need periodic review and revision, as does the town’s own open-space plan. Prior to BB&N’s replacement of the artificial surface every ten years or so, in the light of changed circumstances, the town should consider helping BB&N convert its fields to natural turf with funding proportional to the extent of time Watertown shares the use of those fields. Subsequent maintenance costs would be shared by both parties proportional to the same extent. What’s best for our own children is best for all.
    Patrick Fairbairn, 20 Marcia Road

  25. I think we should put lights up at the Oval in Victory field since Watertown doesn’t have enough fields. This would allow later practices and games, maybe we wouldn’t need the fields of BBN. Also, it would be great to add real stands and and a PA system.

    • Concerned parent,
      The Phase II plans for Victory Field (VF) include upgrades to the track, basketball and tennis courts include new dark skies compliant lighting. Based on the VF planning meetings, I believe the goal of the school department was to get the kids home from practice or games at a reasonable hour. I am not sure that allowing BB&N to use the two fields at Filippello will help in that regard. But as Patrick indicated, the best approach is to purchase land for new fields and open space. Green open space. More fields will allow our maintenance team at the DPW to maintain grass fields that will meet the usage demands of the high school and youth sports that use our fields.

  26. I’m with Elodia and Patrick. Their opinions are well-researched and are cognizant of the very human needs of all. Watertown needs more real green space, not less. We all know this.

  27. In this year 2020, with all that we know about the planet, the impact of carcinogens & toxic chemicals etc.—- we need to put HEALTH and SAFETY of our children and future generations FIRST. Artificial Turf is a short-sighted solution that will ultimately result in a LESS HEALTHY Watertown. Let’s work together to find solutions that serve both our community and our planet, for our shared future. Toxic Chemical artificial turf is NOT SAFE: End of Story. The Town has been demanding more outdoor space — Please hear our voice! We are certainly NOT envisioning a carpet of plastic that we can burn ourselves on or that leads to cancer down the line. Lastly, this matter is very important to our town and thus NEEDS TO BE A COMMUNITY decision. Let us voice our opinions and discuss openly before this deal goes down. We can explain what kind of OPEN SPACE we are envisioning for Watertown. It’s not Artificial Turf.

  28. I, too, am with Elodia and all who have expressed dismay at a plan for artificial turf playing fields for the many health and environmental reasons described very well by others. I have high hopes for a plan for shared open space, but I agree that in 2020 a plan that includes artificial turf is indefensible. Other ways to manage heavily-used recreational spaces must be pursued. Artificial turf is contrary to Watertown’s admirable commitment to the health needs of its citizens, including access to as much safely-managed open green space for recreation as possible. It is also contrary to Watertown’s commitment to environmental stewardship: all available open space should be handled consistent with our environmental goals as a town. I note that an “environmental review” of the plan is scheduled for January, 2021. I urge the review to be complete in its consideration of all the information available, including the comments and references mentioned above, and I urge the Town to request that BB&N reconsider its plan for artificial turf and renegotiate this aspect of what appears to be an otherwise admirable plan.

  29. I am with Elodia on this subject. I cannot fathom how anyone with children would want to add more artificial anything to the environment. Your kids, who may not have the frame of reference at their age to understand how our planet has deteriorated, are in for a really bad future with global climate change. There is no excuse for artificial turf.

  30. I want to thank Elodia for consistently pointing out that every time there’s a hearing or an exchange about plastic turf, the “nays” far outnumber the “yeas.” That includes the responses to her letter that are printed here. The majority of those focused on the issue in Watertown do not want artificial turf in our parks, on our playing fields, or on public playgrounds.

    If BB&N were willing to engage in actual dialogue with that majority, and if our Town Manager and Town Council are willing to support inclusive, democratic process on this, we might end up with a decision that benefitted both the school and the town. The current plan was created without public dialogue, or any sort of transparency, and, not surprisingly, it’s a plan that benefits the BB&N administration’s ambitions, but not their students or the environment.

    For their part, the residents of the Watertown and their children do not stand to benefit at all. One is entitled to ask why Watertown would have signed a memorandum of understanding in the first place, and especially, why we would accept the same plastic turf we rejected for Victory Field?

    As for the science regarding plastic turf, it’s not “definitive,” as one respondent points out. Distinguished experts say it’s most likely dangerous, while others say there’s no proof of that. But I ask you: if there’s the slightest doubt, the least possibility that student athletes can get cancer, as they have in Washington State, or that injuries may be worsened by the bacteria and chemicals in the plastic and in the leaking rubber crumb infill, then do you want your children playing competitively on artificial turf? Do you want to take that chance?

    Even if you think plastic grass might be okay, we are still left with the possibility that it might very well not be.

    Finally, nobody who defends it is willing to address the fact that it cannot be disposed of effectively or safely. No one who supports artificial turf has argued, or can argue, that our soil, water, and air are not degraded when many tons of plastic grass and crumb rubber infill are dumped or buried around the world

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *