I am writing this letter as a way of trying to make sense of what I heard last week in the debate among the candidates for Councilor at Large. The question asked was about the candidate’s views on the use of artificial turf for town playing fields. Almost everyone expressed a sense of being caught in a terribly difficult dilemma. What is more important – extending the availability of playing fields for Watertown kids who play team sports or protecting the environment? I have to ask – why is this so difficult?
BB&NA planning document showing the design for the athletic field to be built by Buckingham, Browne & Nichols School on Grove Street. The project has met resistance from residents who oppose using artificial turf on the fields. After receiving many letters and comments opposing the installation of artificial turf at a new athletic complex being proposed by Buckingham Browne & Nichols School, the Planning Board grudgingly approved the project. The decision was made with strong objections by members of the board and after efforts to delay the vote proved unsuccessful. The project would build two athletic fields on property at 165 Grove Street, just north of Filippello Park.
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 convincemunicipalities, 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.
Many soccer goalies dive face down into the turf hundreds of times per week, during games and practices. As a consequence of playing that position on artificial turf, goalies are prone to inhale and ingest potentially toxic dust and vapor to a greater extent than most other athletes who play on those same fields. Amy Griffin, Associate Soccer Coach at the University of Washington and former goalie for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, began discovering a disturbing pattern of soccer players being diagnosed with cancer, mostly cancers of the blood, lymphomas and leukemia. On an NBC News report in 2014, we learned how she began compiling a list of players with cancer who played on artificial turf. When her list reached 38 soccer players, 34 were goalies.
(The following was read to the Town Council on Oct. 24)
If you are sitting on a beach on a very windy day and sand blows up your nose, you are likely to sneeze or cough. If you don’t, you will soon have the urge to blow your nose to expel the sand. This is your body’s natural defense system that prevents the grains of sand from moving into your lungs. Artificial turf manufacturers use sand for cushioning, but it is nothing like beach sand.
(The following was presented to the Town Council on Sept. 26)
So, we need more artificial turf for our kids. Really?According to the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and the Mayo Clinic, there is NO safe level of lead, especially for children. A child’s brain and nervous system are in the process of developing. Biologically, even high school athletes are still children.
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.
After more than two and a half years, the discussion about how to renovate the track and courts area of Victory Field will begin once again.
The Ad Hoc Committee on Victory Field Renovations will meet on Wednesday, May 31 at 7 p.m. in the Council Chamber of Town Hall. The group is made up of two Town Councilors, two Town officials, and five residents representing the surrounding neighborhood and sports groups (see the members here). The committee will discuss what is being called Phase II of the Victory Field renovation. The first phase was the installation of artificial turf on the football/baseball fields at the complex. Artificial turf was among the reasons the first attempt to do Phase II stalled in October 2014.