The Warwick Valley School District has an impressive environmental record:
Its solar panel field is the largest of any district in New York Sstate and provides much of the electricity it uses.
It has pursued energy efficiency in its buildings and installed water refilling stations to encourage the use of reusable containers.
It is one of the few districts designated a Green Star School.
So I am surprised and disappointed to see that the district hopes to install artificial turf on two fields.
Artificial turf is plastic, and we are more and more aware how plastics pollute our environment and affect health. Plastic is a fossil fuel product which creates pollution in its manufacture.
Since these fields must be replaced after about ten years, more plastic must be installed. The old turf then either ends up in a landfill, or must be recycled, which uses energy and creates more pollution.
This turf contains chemicals, including lead, which may leach into the ground and waterways. Furthermore, synthetic turf kills the soil beneath it.
Reverting to natural grass would be expensive and extremely difficult.
I understand the wish to make playing fields accessible for more of the year. Getting students outside and active is important, and the schools field many teams for both boys and girls.
However, because artificial turf gets much hotter than grass, when temperatures are high, it’s dangerous to play on. As we are seeing more hot days in spring and fall, there will be more times when artificial turf can’t be played on.
There are other health issues to consider. The crumb rubber that is often used for fill has not been sufficiently tested. While the EPA is currently testing this product, its first report stated clearly that “This report is not a risk assessment.”
According to Yale University, of 96 chemicals found in 14 samples of crumb rubber, half of those chemicals have not even been tested by the government. “Based upon the presence of known toxic substances in tire rubber and the lack of comprehensive safety studies, The Children’s Environmental Health Center of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai urges a moratorium on the use artificial turf generated from recycled rubber tires”
There are other, more expensive alternatives to crumb rubber, but they have their own disadvantages. As new alternatives to crumb rubber are introduced, they also need to be subjected to rigorous health and safety testing.
While the state currently reimburses districts for much of the cost of artificial turf fields, there is no guarantee it will continue to do so. When these fields need replacement, it’s possible the school district would be totally responsible for the expense.
Also, upkeep is necessary for artificial turf, as animal droppings. sweat and blood can become contaminants if not sanitized away.
What chemicals would be necessary for this? Who would do the maintenance?
There is conflicting information on the injury rates on artificial turf. The American Journal of Sports Medicine (2019) reported more knee injuries to NCAA football players on artificial turf.
Some argue that these fields are perfectly safe, but consider items we were once believed safe: lead in paints and gasoline, cigarettes, asbestos, opioids, electronic cigarettes (vapes). Sometimes, only time will tell.
Considering all these issues, is choosing artificial turf worth the risk to the environment and to our children?
Other school districts in the county have opted for artificial turf, but Warwick is known as an innovator, not a follower. Better alternatives exist.
School districts have chosen organic grass fields which, properly maintained, do not degenerate quickly. The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell identifies organic natural grass as the safest alternative.
Unfortunately, the district has bundled the artificial turf proposal with needed upgrades such as new bathrooms and replacement of windows and auditorium seats, so voters are given a difficult choice.
In the 45 years I’ve lived in this community, I have always supported school budgets and bond issues.
However, on Dec. 18, I cannot in good conscience vote for this proposal. I hope others will make the same choice.