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Turf Sports Fields

The Longmeadow Youth Sports Council's proposal for $825,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding to convert an LHS natural turf field to a synthetic turf field should be declined for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that the proposed synthetic turf field may be hazardous to human and environmental health.

The proposed artificial field is made up of ground up used tires commonly known as "crumb rubber" or "tire derived fuel." Same product. Different name.

Recent studies have confirmed the presence of several contaminants in crumb rubber fields including the metals arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, lead and zinc, and the chemicals acetone, ethylbenzene, tetrachloroethene, toluene, xylene, Benzothiazole, butylated hydroxyanisole, n-hexadecane, 4-(t-octyl) phenol and phthalates. Some measurements exceeded federal and state guidelines. These contaminants can off gas into the air or seep into the ground water. The tire crumbs can get into players' shoes, socks, jerseys, and pants. And dust particles from these crumbs can be easily inhaled.

Health effects associated with these contaminants include serious skin and eye irritation, birth defects, cancer, nervous system damage and immune system suppression. While manufacturers claim the fields are safe, the potential health effects of exposure to these chemicals endocrine disruption, neurological impairment and cancer can take years to develop. Without long term field testing, no one is in a position to say the exposure is harmless, particularly in children.

There are other problems with tire crumb synthetic turf fields. The surface temperature of these fields is significantly higher than natural soil or air. Temperatures as high as 200 F have been recorded in summer months. Such high temperatures can lead to injuries and significant dehydration.

Crumb rubber fields come at a steep financial cost as well. One budget comparison put the respective costs of natural versus synthetic turf fields in perspective for every dollar spent on construction of natural turf fields, $11 were spent on constructing synthetic turf fields. On the maintenance side, for every dollar spent on the maintenance of synthetic turf fields, $1.30 was spent on natural turf. Not to mention that at $825,000, the cost of the Council's proposed synthetic turf field would eat up virtually all of the CPA budget for this year.

These concerns with rubber crumb fields have convinced many decision makers to choose rehabilitation of natural fields, or use of alternative safer substitutes, over installation of crumb rubber synthetic fields.

The proposal to install the synthetic field at LHS is also wrongheaded since it comes at a time when the town is considering options for construction of a new high school or substantial renovation of the existing facility. In either case, the location for the field may not be suitable. The town would then be forced to either move the field at a considerable cost of up to half or more of the original construction ($400,000 plus), or make unfavorable concessions in the design of the new or renovated facility to accommodate the location of the synthetic turf field.

Lastly, use of CPA funds for the installation of a synthetic field on an existing town-owned natural turf athletic field may constitute a violation of the letter and the spirit of the Act. The Department of Revenue and recent court decisions have stated that CPA funds cannot be used for this purpose unless the land on which the field is located is also purchased with CPA funds. Simply put, the Council cannot use CPA funds to make improvements to a town-owned property that is already being used for recreational purposes.

Bill Ravanesi MA, MPH