To the Editor:
The subject of natural grass versus synthetic turf at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School athletic complex is very complicated, and there are wide-ranging and strong opinions on both sides. MV@Play sifted through much of the available information, and only relied on the science from independent, published, peer-reviewed studies. These studies are from universities and governmental agencies. All studies from the synthetic-turf and natural-grass industries were disqualified, as were opinion papers that were not data-based but instead masquerading as “science.”
When MV@Play started the process, we looked at all options. Natural grass was the first option we considered, and that is why we have chosen natural grass for 65 percent of the athletic campus fields. We had meetings with Jeff Carlson, who is a natural grass expert and has written the book on organic turf management through his work at Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown. We showed him the use that each field would be asked to handle. He was clear the only way to handle this amount of use would be with a combination of synthetic turf and natural grass fields.
There have been letters to the editor that were passionate, but unfortunately were also somewhat misleading, inaccurate, or misrepresented our proposal for Phase 1 reconstruction of the existing track and field. I will attempt to address each of these items.
- Today’s synthetic turf fibers are lead-free.
- Comments regarding the use of antimicrobials, static conditioners, solvents, fungicides, and Roundup are an incorrect representation of what actually is used on thousands of outdoor synthetic turf fields. Most facilities do not use any of these products at all, and when they are used, it is typically associated with indoor facilities.
- A detailed Penn State study debunks the staph bacteria scare in synthetic turf. It should be noted that S. aureus bacterium’s survival rate on a common natural-grass species used for athletic fields in the northern United States was comparable to the survival rate on synthetic turf when no disinfectants were applied.
- There are many examples of facilities using both natural grass and synthetic turf fields that are required to test monitoring wells placed around both surfaces. The water-quality results without question favor synthetic turf fields as having significantly lower environmental impact. Grass field monitoring wells show elevated nitrogen and phosphorous levels, and a much higher percentage of runoff. Synthetic fields show no elevated levels of fertilizers or turf compounds. Turf fields are designed to directly discharge stormwater into the ground without runoff.
- Our children deserve and need safe and well-maintained fields that are equal to what their opponents play on. The Vineyard should not be fooled into accepting inferior playing surfaces as a character- or skill-building tool.
- Cost of maintenance and replacement of the synthetic turf at the end of its life is comparable to the cost of maintaining natural grass fields.
- At time of replacement, the existing turf is packaged and shipped back to the manufacturer to be recycled.
- The towns of Concord, Littleton, and Medway did not place a moratorium on synthetic turf fields. Concord has a three-year moratorium on using crumb rubber infill. Littleton and Medway have yet to vote on the same issue, which again involves crumb rubber infill.
- The MV@Play proposal does not use crumb rubber infill. The infill is an organic mixture of sand, cork, and coconut husk. Consequently, citing these towns has nothing to do with what has been proposed here.
I would like to ask those who may have concerns about the use of artificial turf to take a couple of hours and do your own research. It doesn’t matter which side you favor; I simply urge you to read the independent scientific data that is available and make an informed decision. No one should rely on letters to the editor as facts. Do your own research, and check the facts from both sides of the argument.
Finally, MV@Play was created as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for one reason: to provide Island players of all ages with the reliable, cost-effective, and safe mix of playing surfaces that they need and deserve. Our master plan, which we created in close consultation with school officials and designed around their requirements, shows two natural grass multisport fields envisioned for our younger players. In addition, the plan includes two baseball and two softball fields that will be natural grass. Again, this is a 41-acre complex that will have 65 percent natural grass fields to go with the synthetic multisport fields. This mix of synthetic turf with organic infill and natural grass fields has been the result of consultation with athletic and school officials, experts in natural grass maintenance, sports facility experts, studying scientific, peer-reviewed research, community input, and, frankly, common sense.
Robert Smith, MV@Play