Safe, Healthy Playing Fields Campaign

March 26, 2009

Subject: Safe, Healthy Playing Fields campaign - seeking moratorium on any further synthetic turf fields and testing and reports on installed synthetic turf fields
To: Councilmember Marc Elrich and Chief of Staff Dale Tibbitts

Dear Marc and Dale,

Along with your focus on Parks and Recreation, we would like to follow up on the Safe, Healthy, Playing Fields issue and call for a moratorium. (Note that Parks owns fields at some schools such as Blair as well as in Parks proper). You have previously received information on the health, environmental and fiscal hazards of the "second generation" of artificial turf. For a compilation of reviews, please see http://www.synturf.org.

The bottom line is that everyone wants safe, healthy durable playing fields for both children and adults. In Montgomery county we have been offered unhealthy and potentially toxic crumb rubber/plastic artificial turf as the only alternative to heavily used and/or poorly maintained natural grass fields when in reality there are other, unexplored options open to us both natural and synthetic. Unfortunately we are now well into the use of these potentially dangerous materials (soccerplex-since 2007, Richard Montgomery HS this year and approved at Walter Johnson and Blair HS parks to install) before questions are even asked by those responsible, and that's not good for our children's and our physical, environmental or fiscal health. (see also: http://parentscoalitionmc.blogspot.com/search/label/artificial%20turf and http://parentscoalitionmc.blogspot.com/2009/03/play-now-pay-later.html#comments )

It is particularly ironic for the MCPS schools: while MCPS bans growing anything edible including organic vegetable gardens or any edible fruiting tree or shrub, because of far-fetched liability issues, they knowingly embrace installation of potentially toxic plastic/rubber turf which would seem to open them up to many more lawsuits than a blueberry bush would.

Many communities are just saying NO to artificial turf for health, environmental and fiscal issues. Moratoriums have been put in place in a number of places including New York City and New Jersey and severe restrictions in Connecticut. We are now seeking a moratorium on installation of any new synthetic/artificial turf fields at Montgomery County parks or schools until the health, environmental AND financial issues have been addressed and caution signage, testing and monitoring at all fields already installed.

This is an issue that has not had the due diligence it deserves and ultimately involves the Council, Parks, MCPS, the Board of Education, the Recreation dept and DEP. We have not had a thoughtful and thorough discussion of all the alternatives before synthetic turf is even considered, taking into account what the real problems are for safe, durable playing fields and all the possible options for solutions. Even if we go the synthetic route for some LIMITED circumstances, there are healthier, more environmentally friendly alternatives to research and test. If any field then goes forward it should only do so with stringent monitoring and reporting protocols in place for bacteria, heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) lead, etc.

One of the options is sticking with grass fields but doing them right and organically resulting in better fields at lower initial and yearly cost. Other municipalities are creating more durable, healthier, lower cost, playing GRASS fields on their most heavily used fields with organic maintenance practices. They are even testing organic lawn maintenance for the heavily used National Mall lawn. Why are we not taking their lead? Why instead are we going the totally chemical synthetic oil-based route? This leaves only watering and mowing as a downside to the grass fields compared to artificial turf—but many artificial turf fields are also watered because of the excessive heat levels and they require substantial maintenance for health reasons since they must be cleaned regularly with water and microbicides to deal with the high levels of bacteria from blood, sweat, bird droppings etc. creating another environmental and health hazard possibly encouraging antimicrobial resistance.

There is also an economic and business consideration. We have a local grass sod and seed farming industry in Montgomery County. And a landscaping industry that is suffering under the recession, which could be tapped under contracts to help with organic maintenance. All the Artificial oil-based turf comes from and is made far away contributing to global warming in its manufacture, transportation and the life of its installation. Grass at least helps with carbon sequestration. Artificial turf contributes carbon. So it is a climate change issue as well and an an economic issue for local business. And an opportunity to build more sustainable "green jobs."

Please ask Valerie Ervin to share the information in the folder we gave to her at the FOSC meeting the other night. Please also share with other council members, especially Phil Andrews who has been quoted as enthusiastically supporting synthetic turf fields around the county in the past, presumably with no awareness of their hazards or the overblown supposed benefits which have been debunked under closer scrutiny. Even if we go the synthetic route for some LIMITED circumstances, there are healthier, more environmentally friendly alternatives to research and test.

It's not too late. What we need is a moratorium on any field not yet installed and Caution signs, monitoring and reporting set up for those that are installed while we consider all the problems and their best solutions. We would like you to consider holding a forum inviting independent experts who are not affiliated with the industry.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,
Kathy Michels
For the Safe, Healthy Playing Fields Coalition

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