Athletic fields

Fairfield residents split on artificial turf for sports fields


FAIRFIELD — As the city seeks to upgrade its many sports fields, some residents are advocating that authorities not allow artificial turf pitches, citing environmental and safety concerns.

Officials say the issue of artificial fields has been on their radar for years. He recently returned when the Representative Municipal Assembly approved a $4.1 million sports project at Roger Ludlowe Middle School, which includes the addition of a grass pitch.

Discussion around this project has prompted a more critical view of the material used for the fields, including a proposed ordinance that would ban the use of crumb rubber on all turf fields built in the city. Crumb rubber is recycled rubber produced from scrap tires that can be used as filler in the construction of turf fields. Members of the public have raised concerns that it may have negative health effects for people who use them.

“My kids play sports,” said District 7 GTR member Jill Vergara, who submitted the order. “I saw the gaps in our fields. I know it’s really hard to have all the grass fields. They need rest. We have a town of 10,000 kids and we just don’t have enough spaces to run them properly. But I also want it to be done responsibly. I think there are concerns about the turf.

Residents advocating for a moratorium or a ban on the construction of new grass pitches in Fairfield say artificial turf can cause injuries, can be hot to play on, and infill poses health and environmental concerns. Field supporters say grass fields are safe and plentiful in the area and having more of them in Fairfield could help solve the city’s field problems, as well as give grass fields a break.

Mary Hogue, a member of Fairfield’s sustainability task force, said she recognizes the goal of no artificial turf is unrealistic, but wants to limit the number of grass pitches in town due to testimonials. firsthand she heard from athletes who said it was painful. She also shared her health and environmental concerns.

Dylan O’Connor, co-chairman of the Fairfield Athletic Foundation and member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said environmental and health impact assessments had already been carried out for the grass pitches and published on the Connecticut Department of Health website. He said the city had a shortage of land and that might help.

The discussion is not specific to Fairfield, as other towns have also been pushed back by people concerned about the potential impact of sod fields. In 2018, neighboring Westport banned crumb rubber over concerns the material could impact people’s health.

A year later, a bill that would have prohibited municipalities from buying grass pitches surrounded by the state legislature.

Fairfield advocates and officials have noted that as the parks and recreation master plan nears finalization, there will undoubtedly be more proposals to install grass fields around the city over time. .

Fill type

Vergara said the GTR Legislation and Administration Committee was considering his ordinance that would restrict crumb rubber. He will likely go full-body in September or October if he leaves the committee.

He was inspired by recent attention to the college’s territory proposal which received 170 emails, compared to 140 emails regarding the budget, she wrote in a letter to the committee. She said the majority of emails were in favor of the project, but there were also many opposing it or objecting to the use of crumb rubber.

In light of this, Vergara said that all major players in the discussion were in agreement that crumb rubber should not be used for this or any other project in the future. The GTR amended the credit to require the use of Envirofill, an alternative filler considered more environmentally friendly.

Vergara said his order would establish a baseline – “that no rubber filler material will be used in new facilities – so that we don’t have to backtrack on that decision every time a land project in artificial turf is examined”.

Anthony Calabrese, director of parks and recreation for Fairfield, also noted that the state Department of Health considers grass pitches to be safe. He said his department would support whatever residents want to do and try to build sod fields using the infill he is licensed to use, but alternative infills are more expensive.

“As long as they are willing to finance the higher cost fields, we are ready to build them,” he said.

O’Connor said he and other advocates for more turf fields in town weren’t married to crumb rubber and were fine with alternatives like Envirofill.

“I’m no expert on crumb rubber, but I know enough to know that it’s probably not the best option,” he said. “There are better options and we are 100% in favor of exploring the safest option for our children and for our city.”

Opposition to grass fields

Hogue said for a town that supports a pollination pathwayit is not environmentally friendly to have large areas of synthetic turf.

Fairfield durable sent a letter to the RTM opposing plans for a turf field at RLMS, raising concerns about “the health and safety of the children of Fairfield, damage to local ecosystems and concerns about leakage of contaminated runoff into our watershed and ultimately into Long Island Sound”.

The letter cited a study by the University Hospitals Sports Medicine Institute which found that athletes were 58% more likely to sustain an injury while playing sports on artificial turf. The study found that injury rates were significantly higher for football, soccer and rugby athletes.

The group also said that according to the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Toxic Use Reduction Institute, tire crumbs contain chemicals known to be harmful to human health and the environment, and other types of fillers may also contain chemicals of concern. The institute also notes that turf cannot be recycled in most cases, and often ends up in landfills, while contributing to microplastic pollution.

Sustainable Fairfield also referenced a newsletter from National Football League Players Association President JC Tretter calling on NFL teams to change. all natural grass court surfaces to reduce the risk of player injury. He cites the league’s official injury reports from 2012 to 2018 to back up his point.

The Sustainable Fairfield letter went on to say that grass fields amplify heat in hot weather, quoting Dr. Sarah Evans, Fairfield resident and professor of health and environmental medicine at Mount Sinai.

“There are very real risks of heat injury that make it inadvisable to play even on moderately hot days, and that applies to all types of infill,” Evans said.

Support for grass pitches

O’Connor said there are about 50 grass pitches in the area that Fairfield athletes already play on.

“Even if you’re the most conservative parent in the world and you don’t want your son or daughter to play on a grass field…your son or daughter won’t be able to play sports,” he said. he declares. “No matter what sport they play, they’re going to be on a grass pitch in a different city at some point.”

O’Connor said he wouldn’t want to put his children at risk or make the world worse for them, but said the environmental and health concerns “are unfounded”.

“These kids have been playing it safe for almost two decades,” he said, noting that there are grass courts at Tomlinson Middle School and the two public high schools.

The city is paying for its lack of synthetic pitches, O’Connor said, as many of the city’s grass fields are torn. He noted that the Fairfield Athletic Foundation is not just an advocate for grass pitches, but the overall improvement of athletic infrastructure in the city.

“We want a healthy mix of turf and grass,” he said. “We want to take a really solid look at what we have and what we should have to support the huge sports programs that we have. It’s a sports city, and it’s a huge part of these kids’ lives.

O’Connor said Fairfield’s fields are overused, adding that they can be muddy and have problems with drainage and grass regrowth. He said grass would be a good solution to help reduce these problems.

Calabrese said Fairfield has a shortage of fields, with many fields overused and not enough to take one offline for the season.

“Our fields are constantly being beaten,” he said.

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