New turf rules force test for health risks
By Neil Vigdor
Posted: 02/26/2009 07:53:35 PM EST
Before the town could install any new artificial turf athletic fields it would be required to determine if the synthetic surfaces pose any health risks, under a controversial new ordinance being weighed by the Board of Selectmen.
The board took up the ordinance for the first time Thursday, spawning an impassioned debate between environmentalists and those who want the town to create more athletic fields to meet the growing demand of youth sports. The board is scheduled to vote on the ordinance March 12.
The ordinance was drafted by members of the town’s Environmental Action Task Force. Proponents said the rubber fibers of artificial turf fields have been known to contain carcinogens such as lead that could get on children’s skin or into the watershed.
But Kirk Schubert, president of the Old Greenwich-Riverside Community Center, which had 4,000 registrants for its youth athletic programs last fall, questioned the objectivity of those supporting the ordinance.
“I really feel you’re working against the interests of kids in this town,” Schubert said.
Schubert said a 2008 study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found no risk from the exposure to lead in artificial turf playing fields.
All three artificial turf fields on town property are at Greenwich High School. They include Cardinal Stadium, where the playing surface consists of a granulated rubber infill and polyethylene artificial grass fibers. The other two fields are similar.
The debate over artificial turf safety comes as the General Assembly is set to take up a pair of bills next week that would place a statewide moratorium on the installation of new artificial turf fields until more is known about their health effects.
In addition to health-related issues, the proposed ordinance in Greenwich would require the town to look at the question of liability. Monitoring of field surface temperatures, which can reach well over triple digits in the hot sun, would also be mandated by the town ordinance. Some say high temperatures can cause the release of toxic gases from the playing surfaces as well as create a danger of burns.
A subgroup of the Environmental Action Task Force, a volunteer group created under the direction of Selectman Lin Lavery shortly after she took office some 15 months ago, spent over 400 hours researching, meeting and corresponding on the subject of artificial turf safety.
Jack Stoecker, a task force member and chairman of the Mianus River Watershed Council, raised concerns about the rainwater run-off from artificial turf fields.
“My concern, obviously from a water quality perspective, is what happens downstream,” Stoecker said.
Scott Johnson, a member of the Board of Parks and Recreation, which has been lobbying for new playing fields, said his group deserved to be consulted more on the issue of artificial turf safety, a subject which it has studied extensively, he said.
Lavery said no one is disputing the need for more fields.
“That is a separate issue, which the town needs to address, and we need to do it right away,” Lavery said.
When it comes to artificial turf, Lavery said she believes in a cautious approach, however.
“I just think we have to be careful,” Lavery said.
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