I Feel Mislead

Dear Editor,

As a parent who voted in last summer’s web survey about Westfield park enhancements, I feel misled because the only option related to sports fields was a vote in favor of “artificial turf fields,” yet it’s now clear that the health, financial and environmental impact of petroleum-based fields was never considered before the survey distributed.

Our town needs additional and better-draining multipurpose fields, but unfortunately, the proposed $18.2M Edison Fields Plan is not the right solution. It will cost well beyond the original estimate in the Master Parks Plan ($3.5M) and what our neighboring towns are paying for improved fields. 

More importantly, the Edison Fields plan puts our children at risk because artificial turf fields are significantly hotter than grass and because athletes are 58% more likely to sustain injury on synthetic turf.

As a busy parent, I did not stop to question why the web survey, which is often pointed to as proof that Westfield residents want artificial turf fields, had no options for “new fields” or “high-quality grass turf,” I simply voted for fields and moved on. I imagine I’m not the only one. 

Unfortunately, the more I learn about artificial turf fields, the more concerned I become. Injury rates are worse on artificial turf which led to FIFA banning it’s use in the World Cup. I am also worried about the health risks identified by Dr. Sarah Evans, in this video and letter distributed by the Mount Sinai Environmental Medicine & Public Health organization. Specifically, she mentions: extreme heat (40-60 degree difference from grass) leading to heat exhaustion and burns. Carcinogen levels that increase as the synthetic materials age, which means the safety data on new synthetic materials doesn’t exist yet. Bacteria because synthetic turf doesn’t benefit from the naturally antibacterial properties of grass, it’s recommended that athletes shower immediately after playing on synthetic fields and that people avoid lounging on fake grass or eating food before washing their hands, unlikely habits in a Middle School setting and lead me to wonder what a safe school day will look like for our children once all of their grass is replaced with synthetic material.

When Princeton recently did the proper analysis comparing artificial turf to grass, they scrapped their plan to install artificial turf at Hilltop Park. I believe our town should complete a similar analysis of the pros and cons of grass vs. artificial turf, inclusive of the health risks artificial turf poses to our children and to our water supply, the financial risks of installing a massive artificial field before the EPA has presented their ongoing assessment of the health risks, the cost of maintenance, replacement in 10 years and disposal of 400,000 square feet worth of toxic waste, as well as, the impact on drainage in a flood zone.

In the meantime, our grass multipurpose fields, including Edison, should be improved to enable more consistent use and we should get creative about finding new locations for additional fields.

–Erin Skurdal, 7/25/21

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