Decide using facts


To the Editor:

I am a full-time resident of Aquinnah, grandmother of two school-aged boys, and professional researcher. This last role is most pertinent to my comments here. For more than 30 years I have conducted, analyzed, and evaluated research on a variety of topics in health, education, and human services for public and private funding sources.

When I read the email asking me to Vote NO to using E & D funds and sending a proposal for a synthetic turf field for MVRHS to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, alarm bells went off. In my experience, when language is employed that plays into peoples’ fears and biases, it is often because credible information to support a cause is lacking. So I educated myself by reading original research studies, along with the EPA Status Report. This information can be found on Pub Med and Google Scholar. I am not informed enough to address the financial, historical or political issues in this debate, so I leave those up to others.

I am aware that passions run high on this issue and have no doubt that opponents are well intentioned. They want to be assured of the health and safety of student athletes and of the environmental impact. We all do. At the same time, residents deserve complete and accurate information to inform their decision.

Much of the information circulated by the opponent group is outdated, misleading, or inaccurate. Words like toxic plastic fields, plastic fibers, unsafe, patently false, lead, increased injury, etc. play into biases people often have to things that are natural versus artificial. Not everything natural is safe. Numerous plants that grow naturally will poison you. Not everything that is artificial is unsafe. If you have apparel that has polar fleece, rubber, Lycra, spandex or acrylic, or upholstered furniture and carpet in your home, you are living with some of the same petroleum-based materials found in some types of synthetic turf. These substances are ubiquitous in our daily lives, but in such small amounts that they cause no harm, even in combination.

It is also important to distinguish between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation synthetic turf. Today’s products have come a long way since Astro turf. Many companies now offer 8-10 different options for infill, including organic options with combinations of cork, coconut, and olive pits, to name a few. The turf backing contains materials commonly used in carpet backing, and turf fiber can be nylon, not plastic. Many of these also mitigate the heat problem of earlier products, can be lead free, and can recycle water runoff. There are now an assortment of technologies and processes for recycling/reusing synthetic turf to avoid dependency on landfills.

According to the EPA, there are more than 12,000 synthetic turf fields currently in use and several thousand more are being added each year. Four of the six schools in the Cape & Islands League either have synthetic turf fields or are in the process of building them, including Falmouth. The consultant’s report for the single synthetic turf field at MVRHS contains recommendations based on health and safety concerns and the latest innovations in product materials. I did not see ANY of the materials that are of most concern, such as tire crumb rubber or crumb rubber.

Claims such as increased injury, negative climate effects, toxicity, cancer, etc. have little or no scientific support. Much of the information cited is out of date or concerned primarily with tire crumb or other crumb rubber infill, rather than the organic options and fiber materials in third generation products. Eighty-eight studies were reviewed by the EPA in the first phase of their ongoing comprehensive multi-method study to address safety and environmental impact. In the conclusion of their review they state no significant human risks have been identified. This conclusion was supported in my own review of 22 published studies.

In addition, a more focused research review conducted by an epidemiologist for American Soccer Analysis, included 10 injury studies for soccer and additional studies for football. Findings indicated no increase in injuries due to synthetic turf. While some athletes may have a preference for grass over turf, current available evidence does not support the likelihood of increased turf injury.

It is not scientifically accurate to say that the school superintendent’s claim of safety is patently false. To disparage the educators and board members who so diligently reviewed information, as well as the report from a very reputable consultant group, seems unfair.

Students want to compete athletically. Their safety and wellbeing are uppermost priorities for all of us. Should not the most up-to-date, most accurate evidence be used to make such a consequential decision? Does Aquinnah really want to be the town that refuses to listen to science and blocks the process from proceeding further? What example does this set for our children?

There are no guarantees that voting YES and sending the issue to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission will result in a synthetic turf playing field. What do we have to lose by continuing the dialogue and having all the questions and concerns fully addressed using the most complete and reliable information?


Christine Murphy, PhD RN


  1. Hi Christine,

    While we can certainly agree to disagree over plastic fields, I’d like to respond to a few points in your letter. The special town meeting is to give taxpayers the opportunity to weigh in on an extensive, phased athletic campus renovation plan before it gets underway. Funding for capital projects is typically built into the school budget (not taken from E&D funds) for this reason. As many of us have already heard in our respective annual town meetings, the needs across the MVRHS campus — including the building itself — are great and come with hefty price tags, calling for careful prioritization. As an Aquinnah voter, I know you are well aware of the budgetary challenges facing your town and others, which is another factor voters must consider before this funding is approved.

    On a different note, I am concerned about endorsing new (untested in real life) products, downplaying the well established concerns related to plastic pollution, dismissing the low dose hypothesis and precautionary principle, and giving the benefit of the doubt to an industry that continues to market the “materials of concern like tire crumb rubber” to schools. As a researcher, I’m sure you are also aware of the influence of junk science and this industry is no exception. For the record, there is no plastic carpet recycling facility in the US. Excessive heat is a problem on plastic fields regardless of infill. There are no long term studies regarding these new products regarding injury and concussion rates, etc. because they are indeed new. But the core of this issue is the large, plastic carpet. Whether it is sprinkled with coconut, olives, or feathers from a unicorn (!!) is a diversion from the main issue which is a 2-acre, unsanitary, hot plastic carpet.

    Please feel free to contact us at I would be happy to share our years of research on these topics with you, including our annotated fact sheet, and/or walk a field together to discuss! Here are a few current links that are worth a read:

    • Rebekah, If you were to look at the references from tandfaonline article you reference, you would see that any heat related articles were in reference to crumb rubber infill. It has been established that crumb rubber is not the infill identified for use in this project. Christine did a lot of independent research of her own on this topic and was very thorough as she, as a researcher, had her own questions she wanted answered. I doubt that the 110 articles that were referenced in her review were “Junk Science”. Please don’t insult a professional like that.

      It has been established that maintaining grass fields at the high school has been difficult, at best, and that is the main reason for this request. Again, referencing one of the sources from your previous posted link this is what it said, “But according to Doyle, increased maintenance is not the answer. “More maintenance cannot overcome overusage of a natural grass sports field,” he says. “And overusage of a natural grass sports field or usage during a rainstorm or in months of dormancy will produce an unsafe playing surface.” Adds Benepe, “Even the wealthiest professional sports teams and Ivy League universities have concluded that grass fields are a losing proposition for intense-use sports such as football or soccer. . . .There is also the reality that natural turf fields used for high-intensity sports must be replaced every few years, unless you severely restrict use.”

      It is time, the school administration has employed professionals to help make this decision. I believe you have been fighting this for what, 3 years now, with little or no professional experience in the field design and maintenance. Your passion is, if nothing else, noted but if you really have what is best for the student athletes at the school in mind, let the track project with synthetic surface infield, as proposed, go unopposed and use your efforts and resources to help with the other 5 grass fields that the school will need to maintain.

  2. Chris
    I can’t thank you enough, you have managed to condense the issue that has been being discussed for four years in one letter.

    Terry Donahue

  3. Thank you Christine for your intelligent and well thought out letter. It’s all about the facts and the facts say MV is in dire need of a new sports complex that is safe for all! Your letter to the editor is setting an example for your children and their children about the right way to handle a sensitive issue, with dialogue and facts. Thank you!!! I hope West Tisbury (4/30) and Aquinnah (5/7) come out and vote to move this matter to the MVC! This debate has gone on long enough.

    Joe Mikos, Proud OB resident
    President MV Youth Lacrosse

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