WALLINGFORD — A local environmental advocate has raised concerns about Choate Rosemary Hall’s plan to install artificial turf on an existing athletic field that abuts Wharton Brook.
Last week, the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission approved a wetlands permit for the private prep school in the town center to install synthetic turf on Maguire Field North, an 87,400-square-foot multi-use field just south of Christian Street.
That decision didn’t sit well with Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health Inc., a North Haven-based nonprofit of physicians, public health professionals and policy experts.
The group has been vocal in opposing the use of artificial turf, raising health and environmental concerns about exposure to chemicals found in the turf’s crumb rubber infill.
Lorraine Connelly, Choate associate director of communications, said in an email that Choate has been “reassured by the contractor and the manufacturer that this product exceeds product safety standards for artificial turf surfaces.”
Alderman’s grandson graduated from Choate about five years ago. She spoke with Choate’s head of athletics around 2012, when the school was considering its first turf field, the Class of ’76 Field.
“I explained why the fields were dangerous and why they should keep their beautiful grass fields,” Alderman said.
Crumb rubber has 12 carcinogens and 20 irritants, she said. Artificial turf is comprised of plastic grass, held up by crumb rubber pellets, with crushed stone beneath to allow water drainage.
Connelly said that Choate is planning to use FieldTurf Vertex Prime, the same brand of the existing turf field.
“As Choate seeks town approvals we remain mindful that all aspects of the project must also meet Wallingford guidelines and regulations,” she wrote.
Artificial turf fields have been installed at many public and private schools around the country. In Wallingford, turf fields were installed at Sheehan High School in 2006 and at Lyman Hall High School in 2015.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency has said that limited studies have not correlated playing on crumb rubber surfaces with health risks, it launched a comprehensive study in 2016.
A 2010 water quality study by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection found a “potential risk” of contamination from stormwater runoff of artificial turf fields, but that further analysis would be required to make a final conclusion.
Rainwater, Alderman said, “very definitely also works to pull those pellets off the field. We’re talking a lot of chemicals in those crumb rubber pellets absorbed in rainwater and move through the environment.”
The environmental concerns about crumb rubber were mentioned briefly by Inland Wetlands commission members last week, but not discussed in detail.
Town Environmental Planner Erin O’Hare expressed concerns about two discharge points along Wharton Brook with eroded conditions, but said she felt comfortable that the town Engineering Department would address her concerns through the Planning and Zoning Commission.