Artificial turf fields challenged

Artificial turf fields challenged


After initially voting to approve construction of two artificial turf fields at the middle school, the Board of Education is having second thoughts.

At a May 11 meeting, a board member spoke of potential health risks which have been associated with artificial turf and called for the board to amend the educational specifications that allotted $4.1 million for the turf fields project and to lay down natural grass fields instead.

Board member Jennifer Caldwell said, “We can amend the ed specs for the turf fields, which have a long-term impact on health and finances, and say the fields should be grass. The kids shouldn’t play on the turf fields.”

After discussion that Sprinturf, the vendor contracted to build the artificial turf fields, was unable to provide details about the materials used in the fields, board chair Anita Anderson called for a conference with the board, the Middle School Building Committee and Sprinturf. That meeting will be held next week.

Members of the public attended the May 11 BOE meeting, with some holding signs opposing artificial turf fields. Mary White prepared signs and spoke at length about the potential health dangers associated with artificial turf. “It’s never too late to protect the health and safety of our children,” she said. “You should vote to change the ed specs to three grass fields or two grass fields and a turf field with cork and coconut infill.”

Others spoke in support of the proposed turf fields, including athletic director Steven Blumenthal, and David Mikos, a member of the building committee.

Blumenthal said artificial turf fields are preferable to the school’s grass fields, which are in disrepair, and Mikos said it would be a travesty to change the ed specs now after the Board of Education had approved the fields and the town voted to finance them.

Whether North Haven’s educational specifications can now be altered is a question that came up at the May 11 meeting.

Superintendent of Schools Bob Cronin said, “I’m not sure the ed specs can be changed, as they have been adopted by the Board of Education and submitted to the state Department of Education with our construction request. The ed specs spell out what we want the Building Committee to deliver in the end and that’s what they did. It’s late in the project for them to suddenly call the ed specs into question.”

Jeff Donofrio, a town lawyer who oversees building projects, said the Building Committee would have to meet to change the educational specifications and would then have to consider the financial implications. “They would have to determine who will pay the bills for the work that has been done,” he said.

Construction of the two artificial turf fields has already begun. The Gilbane Building Company is doing site work.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and the Consumer Product Safety Commission are currently investigating the safety of crumb rubber artificial turf.

The Synthetic Turf Council, an industry group, said it supports the federal effort. “We have consistently said that we support all additional research,” the council said in a statement. “At the same time, we strongly reaffirm that the existing studies clearly show that artificial turf fields and playgrounds with crumb rubber infill are safe and have no link to any health issues.

“We hope the federal government’s involvement, which we have been encouraging for years, will settle this matter once and for all, put parents’ minds at ease, and validate past and recent due diligence by public officials,” it added.

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