Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Battle Over Synthetic Turf

What is it about kids, sports and environmental exposures that can drive such high emotions?

The other night in Wilton, Connecticut, there was a heated debate over a proposal for a new synthetic turf field. Sports parents turned out in force at the Planning and Zoning Commission hearing to show their support, while some local residents and invited experts urged caution because of potential health and environmental impacts.

Passion ran high and tempers were short. Supporters seemed exasperated with the delay in approving the field, while the Commission seemed genuinely concerned by the suggestion of potential health threats to young athletes who play on synthetic turf.

The same scene is playing out in communities across the country as local school and municipal officials grapple with the demands of sports teams for unfettered access to playing fields. The lure of the promise of a virtually indestructible sports field that is playable 24/7/365 is understandable. But science is getting in the way, and with science, there are no quick answers.

The fact is that the recycled ground-up tires (crumb rubber) that cushion most synthetic turf fields, along with the disinfectants and flame retardants commonly used on these fields, contain chemicals that have been linked with increased risk of cancer, developmental and neurological problems and birth defects. But of course, none of these things happen right away. It's only over time that we understand the true impact of environmental exposures…sometimes it takes decades.

The Precautionary Principle is something every parent knows and applies by instinct. We buckle our kids in seat belts, teach them to wash their hands and look both ways before crossing the street. We go out of our way to make sure they're safe. Kids have been playing on natural grass safely for thousands of years. Does the ability to occasionally play a lacrosse game in the rain outweigh the risk that they could be permanently or seriously harmed by years of exposure to the toxic chemicals on a plastic playing field during one of the most critical developmental periods of their lives?

As a dad, for me this is a no-brainer.

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