To the Editor
I am a longtime resident of Princeton, and a youth sports advocate and coach. I believe that sports are a great outlet for people young and old. I believe that our parks are wonderful areas for use by our entire community and that our recreation department does a wonderful job serving our community and maintaining our parks. In fact, we have some of the most beautiful parks and sports fields in the region. However, I am strongly against the idea of plasticizing our beautiful parks with artificial turf and call on our current town council to weigh in by calling a special meeting to evaluate the concerns (environmental, health, and safety) related to this issue. Furthermore, I propose that they adopt an ordinance banning artificial turf from our community parks going forward. This nonsense must end.
Every few years or so, our community is forced to confront the same issue — that artificial turf will better serve our community’s youth sports programs and that we have received a grant or a donation to help pay for it. Every time, claims are made that the “new” generation of turf is safer than the last, that it is cheaper to maintain, and that by playing on synthetic turf, our children will somehow magically develop into world-class athletes. None of this is true.
Artificial turf fields are not conclusively safe: Despite the strides made to make artificial turf fields “safer”, there is no conclusive evidence that they are safe. By now we should have all learned about the dangers of crumb rubber infill, which is made by shredding used tires, which contain all sorts of toxic irritants and carcinogenic chemicals. A chemical analysis conducted by Yale University in 2015 found in its sample of crumb rubber 11 such carcinogens and 20 irritants. www.ehhi.org/chemicals. Next-generation artificial turf fields using newer alternative infills, aside from being much more expensive, are either sand, crumb rubber coated with a plastic polymer, or EPMD. While the industry claims that these are safer than the crumb rubber infills, the plastic coating may be impregnated with an antibacterial called Microban (triclosan), which the FDA has banned from soaps because it has been associated with hormone disruption and antibiotic resistance. Furthermore, with constant play and weather exposure, the plastic coating can breakdown and the insides can then be exposed (think about what happens when you step on an M&M). EPMD, or virgin rubber, is not made from shredding tires, yet it also contains toxic chemicals and carbon black. Research also suggests that all plastics may leach chemicals if they are scratched or heated. Therefore, even if the infill were inert, the plastic blades of grass may also be problematic. So while these alternatives may theoretically be safer, artificial turf fields are not toxin or emission free. Do we want our youth exposed to potentially cancer-causing chemicals? Not to mention the downstream effects on our environment caused by toxic runoff.
Artificial fields may not be cheaper to maintain: The promise of reduced field maintenance costs is a fundamental argument for those proposing installation of artificial turf. However, the costs of maintaining a natural field are only marginally higher than an artificial field, and if you take into consideration the replacement costs, which needs to be done every 8-10 years, natural grass fields are cheaper. www.safehealthyplayingfields.org/cost-grass-vs-synthetic-turf . Furthermore, a quick internet search reveals a multitude of towns that have ongoing litigation costs related to synthetic fields that failed to meet the promised playability or suffered from premature failures sooner than what was promised by the field installers. Once again, natural turf is better.
Once you convert a natural grass field to synthetic turf, you are making a long-term decision: Princeton claims to be a sustainable town. It takes pride in being a “Tree City”. Yet there is no going back once a decision is made to convert a field to synthetics, because once plastic replaces natural grass, it kills any living organism in the subsoil, making it impossible, without years of remediation, to grow anything on that surface. If our fields are in disrepair, a much better alternative would be to use a fraction of the cost of an artificial turf field to rebuild a natural field with sufficient drainage ability to allow play more quickly after major rainstorms. The beauty of natural turf is also enjoyed by all residents of the town, not just the families of soccer or lacrosse players.
A few other thoughts on the use of our public parks: Hilltop Park is the nearest park to a significant percentage of our community living in affordable housing. Building an artificial turf field that will primarily be used by “for-profit” soccer academies seems like a true loss to those who may not be able to afford the expense of participating in them and a major loss of open space for everyone else. Where can one go to have a picnic or to fly a kite? Certainly, one doesn’t want to sit on an artificial turf field. Why are we subsidizing for-profit entities anyway? Shouldn’t they buy their own facilities? Finally, installing one turf field will inevitably lead to calls for others. This is a slippery slope that we should avoid at all costs. We have to decide what we want Princeton to be, a historic town filled with natural beauty or one filled with plastic and parking lots. When all is considered, I believe that natural fields are better for our community.