Trust the professionals on artificial turf


To the Editor:

In recent letters to the editor, coaches, parents, and young athletes professed the safety of plastic grass. While everyone is entitled to personal preference, it is time we stop accepting their opinions on safety, and start trusting in the professionals.

Mount Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center states that plant-derived infills require further research before being declared safe: “[There is] insufficient data on chemical exposures due to limited studies that assess composition, offgassing, leaching, and associated potential health effects.”

UMass Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute now has a full section of its website dedicated to this issue. It warns of elevated heat stress for athletes (regardless of the infill material), significant increase in skin abrasions, a risk factor for serious bacterial infections, and like Mount Sinai, cautions, “[plant-derived materials made of sand, cork, and coconut hulls] are likely to contain fewer hazardous chemicals than crumb rubber infill made from recycled tires, but the materials have not been well characterized or studied thoroughly.”

The World Health Organization’s “The Precautionary Principle: Protecting Public Health, the Environment and the Future of Our Children” states, “The current approach to risk assessment needs to be modified by applying the precautionary principle to protect children’s health. Chemicals need to be presumed potentially toxic until proven safe; the current practice of releasing untested and potentially problematic chemicals to the environment to learn only years or decades later of their hazards cannot continue.”

Further, all artificial turf fields contain lead. It is used as a color fixative in the plastic grass fibers. Last week, the American Association of Pediatrics called for more testing and tighter rules on lead exposure. According to NPR, “Most existing lead standards fail to protect children … Standards for the amount of lead that can be present … are not based on health standards, the pediatricians say, but instead on what’s been feasible to attain. Such standards, they write, create ‘an illusion of safety.’” Recognizing that lead and lead compounds are persistent bioaccumulative toxins and that no amount of preventable lead exposure is acceptable, MVRHS officials’ apparent lack of concern is shocking.

The tide is turning on plastic grass. Every day, more information comes to light, highlighting the need for caution regarding this wildly expensive, permanent choice, and raising the question: Why does the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School leadership seem to be convinced plastic grass is safe when institutions like Mount Sinai, UMass Lowell’s TURI, and others, are not?

Rebekah Thomson
Vineyard Haven