Irresponsible decision


To the Editor:

I believe it was irresponsible for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee to approve Phase One of MV@Play’s plan, about which many significant details remain unknown and many valid concerns have been raised. I hope the Martha’s Vineyard Commission will now take a hard look at the potential long-term health and environmental consequences.

Related to this, I am dismayed by the tone of the debate over the past month, particularly the involvement of high school leaders and coaches advocating for one side and framing the discussion in adversarial terms. The result of that influence was clearly on display at the two PAC meetings. It seemed as though students had been led to believe that those concerned about artificial turf do not want to improve field conditions or act on behalf of student athletes. Sadly, it also seemed they were being taught that environmental impact should be secondary to expediency.

In the rush to push this decision through, several myths appear to be informing the conversation.

Myth 1: Dissenting opinions are not valid.

School leaders, elected officials, parents, and athletes unilaterally dismissed 600-plus perspectives (online petition signatures and comments, as well as opinions expressed at the PAC meetings) by stating that dissenters don’t understand the current state of some fields, are fear-mongering, don’t support athletics, are hippies unwilling to embrace change, or aren’t even from the Island community. Contrary to one passionate parent’s insinuation that the concerns of my (atomic bomb-surviving) Japanese in-laws regarding chemical exposure were not relevant, those at a distance are arguably more easily able to see how fundamentally misguided it is to install plastic carpeting to address the issue of neglected fields.

Myth 2: Artificial turf fields with plant-derived infill are safe.

It is shocking that anyone in this day and age could deny the inherent negatives associated with plastic fields. This is the replacement of (cooling, oxygen-producing, carbon dioxide–absorbing) grass and dirt with a foot of rock overlaid with synthetic fiber made from petrochemicals and treated with flame retardants and lead (FieldTurf admitted in March 2016 testimony that they still use it in their product), which is then routinely maintained with chemical antimicrobials, static conditioners, solvents, fungicides, and Roundup (recommended in FieldTurf’s “Maintenance Guidelines”). And those are just the ones we are aware of. According to David Heath, in an article published by VICE News and the Center for Public Integrity, “While there are more than 80,000 chemicals available for commercial use, the EPA over the past 30 years has assessed the health risks of only 570.” Please. It doesn’t matter how many studies the artificial turf industry underwrites, or how many white coats they hire; we have got to be smarter than this.

Myth 3: Our children need pristine playing fields.

While I appreciate the appeal of perfectly groomed fields, that is neither a realistic nor appropriate goal for our community. The all-or-nothing attitude (i.e. fields remain in a state of dangerous neglect or are replaced by million-dollar installations that “rival the best golf courses”) does not allow for a happy medium where fields are upgraded and better maintained for safety — with a few game fields kept in even better condition. This is real life, where perfect bounces don’t exist and perfection isn’t a virtue. Learning to cope with manageable obstacles cultivates psychological resilience, which allows children to rebound from adversity as strengthened and more resourceful individuals. As MVRHS’s incredible athletic success attests, our children’s strength lies not in their school facilities, but in their determination, athleticism, coaching, and resilience.

Myth 4: Without the “gift” of artificial turf, Vineyard athletics will suffer.

Fortunately, the current debate has brought the important issue of field maintenance to the forefront. Everyone knows the high school needs a new track. Quickly. But there are lots of ways to solve these challenges without driving away would-be athletes with the use of plastic fields. We need to take a good look at all the resources we have — pre-existing playing fields around the Island, generous donors, landscapers experienced in green methods, town monies, a horticulture vocational program — and build a sustainable plan from there. Already many Islanders are coming forward with innovative ways to get involved.

It’s time to stop drinking the artificial turf Kool-Aid. Perhaps we should follow the wise example of Concord, Littleton, Medway, and other towns that are passing three-year moratoriums on the installation of artificial turf fields. And in the meantime, let’s put our heads and wallets together to make this project something of which the entire community can be truly proud.

Rebekah Thomson
West Tisbury