Artificial Turf for Playing Fields?
President’s Letter – by Shawn Justament
Montgomery County public and private high schools are moving toward replacing the natural grass in sports stadiums with artificial turf. The systems being installed use a polyethylene fiber carpet with a crumb rubber infill. Currently there is debate about the safety of these fields, with concerns ranging from increased injuries, off-gassing of volatile organic compounds, and leaching of hazardous chemicals into storm water. We particularly question the impact of runoff from these fields on our streams and waterways.
The artificial turf industry is quick to point out the advantages of its product. Artificial turf doesn’t need the fertilizers, pesticides, regular irrigation and frequent mowing of a grass field. However, the surface has its own maintenance requirements for sweeping, grooming, disinfecting and repair.
Advocates note that the crumb rubber infill is made from used tires, thus providing a good way to recycle the material. As anyone who has kids playing on these fields can attest, the crumb rubber gets everywhere, including inside shoes and socks. New crumb infill must be added from time to time, and after a useful lifespan of eight to ten years, the artificial turf needs to be replaced, with the old carpet and 120 tons of crumb infill ending up in landfill. Incongrously, used tires are not allowed in landfills, but crumb rubber from used artificial turf is!
Artificial turf becomes so hot that fields are watered down to cool them, and turf fields are frequently watered to improve the playing surface, raising the question of what is leaching off these fields after watering or rainfall? One of the most comprehensive studies on the environmental impact of artificial turf was done by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. The report showed that leachate from artificial turf stormwater runoff contains zinc, manganese and chromium at levels toxic to aquatic organisms, and concluded that there is a potential risk to surface waters from runoff. Recommendation: stormwater runoff from artificial turf fields that is discharged to surface waters be handled in a manner that incorporates best management practices, such as stormwater treatment wetlands, wet ponds, infiltration structures, compost filters, sand filters or biofiltration structures.
The countys report endorsing artificial turf, A Review of Benefits and Issues Associated with Natural Grass and Artificial Turf Rectangular Stadium Fields (September 2011), notes that the capacity of artificial turf fields for more playing hours allows community use, thus generating revenue that offsets the higher cost. Outside funding is not always stable, and, arguably, fees for community use are not commensurate with the true cost of field use.
The cost of installing an artificial turf field and its subsequent disposal is more than the cost of a top-of-the-line grass field, even when maintenance and re-sodding is included, and there have been advancements in organic turf care that reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides. For Montgomery County, which prides itself on being environmentally sensitive, a greener approach to playing fields might be the better option.
Artificial Turf, Continued
by Carol Van Dam Falk Wootton High School is the latest county high school to go plastic by replacing the natural grass in its sports stadium with artificial turf. The countys Board of Education recently voted in favor of the move, despite significant environmental, health and financial concerns raised by community activists, including the group, Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition. The Coalition will also be making its case against artificial turf with Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen.
Promoters of artificial turf fields often begin their polished presentations by saying, We all prefer grass as a playing surface, but . . . with a discussion of grass fields phrased in terms of the high cost of maintenance and the wet and muddy fields that mean less playing time for kids. We’d all love to have a well-maintained grass field, the sales pitch goes, But because that is not possible, or it’s too expensive, turf is the best choice.
For the turf-versus-grass debate to be fair, one needs to compare a well-maintained grass field with an artificial turf field, particularly where a new surface is being compared to the run-down and ill-maintained grass field that it is intended to replace. While a grass field is more expensive to maintain, the twenty-year cost of installing artificial turf, periodically refreshing the infill, and replacing the turf itself is $2.5 million.
Green spaces play an important role in protecting water resources by trapping and removing pollutants in stormwater runoff. On the health front, artificial turf is manufactured with a number of chemical substances that may include black carbon, a known carcinogen. Under extreme heat, those particles break down into a powdery substance that can get into the players jerseys, and even be ingested. The jury is still out on just how harmful those chemicals can be, but some health professionals have weighed in against artificial turf.
Brickyard Road School Site Update
by Curt Uhre Recently, WMCCA and other members of the Brickyard Coalition filed a major lawsuit against Montgomery County, County Executive Ike Leggett, the Board of Education (BOE) and MSI to stop construction of the private soccer complex on the Brickyard Road school site. We did not initiate this lawsuit lightly. Unfortunately, after the BOE refused our settlement proposal and even refused to meet, we concluded we had no choice but to proceed with legal action. Find the entire lawsuit by clicking on the legal tab at the Brickyard Coalition website. The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that the County unlawfully conspired with the BOE to deliver the Brickyard public school land to a private corporation, MSI, at little or no cost. Additionally, the lawsuit points out that the Potomac Master Plan was violated, zoning ignored, citizen input stifled, and government transparency replaced by secret dealings and illegal transactions. These include:
- The Board of Education made illegal decisions and failed in their fiduciary trustee duties:
– The Brickyard lease has no direct benefit to the school system as required by state law;
– The BOE made decisions in secret and twice violated the Open Meetings Act;
– The BOE did not competitively bid the lease.
- The County failed to obey the law by making a deal that:
– Has no public purpose MSI is a private corporation;
– Failed to publicly post the property before entering into the lease;
– Did not obey Montgomery County procurement laws;
– Improperly assigned the lease to MSI without following county land disposition laws.
- The BOE and the County did not seek the approval of the Montgomery County Planning Board before authorizing a change of use for the Brickyard site.
Glen Hills Sewer Study
by Susanne Lee As a result of the efforts of Glen Hills residents and WMCCA, the countys Department of Environment (DEP) has temporarily taken down the Phase I Report from DEP’s Glen Hills sewer study public website. The report identified 224 lots as not suitable for septic. DEP has not indicated if it will make any changes in the Phase I analyses or report before it is again posted to the website. In the meantime, DEP is proceeding with Phase II, which includes the design of multiple sewer extensions that would run from both the Piney Branch stream and Watts Branch stream sewer mains.
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