I am a teacher. I care deeply about environmental stewardship and leaving a more sustainable world for our children and future generations.
U.N. Secretary General, António Guterres referred to the recently issued Sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report as “a code red for humanity.” He emphasized the need to act boldly, to limit global warming, stating, “There is no time for delay and no room for excuses.”
Each of us must do our part, but we also need our elected officials to take the lead by enacting initiatives that will mitigate the climate change crisis. Over the past three years, the Brindle administration has done exactly that by: adopting a Sustainable Land Use Pledge, a Green Building Policy Resolution and a Green Building Checklist ordinance which includes the question: Does the site minimize heat island effects?
In an effort to solve the athletic field shortage, Westfield sports leagues clamoured for synthetic turf fields with lights. A plan to replace the 9 acre natural grass field behind Edison Intermediate School with 400,000 square feet of lighted, petroleum-based synthetic turf fields was outlined in a letter of intent between the Town Council and the BOE.
Sustainable Jersey, of which Westfield is a member, states, “despite their green color, synthetic turf fields actually absorb high amounts of solar energy due to their plastic makeup and can become extremely hot in the summer, reaching up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Communities should use natural grass for future construction and consider removing existing synthetic turf fields when they wear out and need to be replaced.”
The manufacturing, installation, service and disposal of a 400,000 square foot synthetic turf field would generate about 250.2 tons of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of 25,000 gallons of gasoline, in addition to other greenhouse gases and pollutants.
The plastic grass blades and backing used on synthetic turf fields contain perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of chemicals, referred to as “forever chemicals,” that have been linked to cancer, nervous system toxicity, immune dysfunction, thyroid, and cardiovascular disease.
Synthetic turf fields have become so ubiquitous that it is easy to assume they are safe. This is understandable, because the synthetic turf industry is not regulated by any government agency. The Synthetic Turf Council, and the industry it supports, can make whatever claims they want about synthetic turf, regardless of how inaccurate or misleading. This is similar to how tobacco companies marketed cigarettes to unsuspecting consumers in the mid-20th century.
It will take elected officials who have courage and integrity to go against the trend to install lighted synthetic turf fields. I believe Mayor Brindle and the members of the Westfield Town Council and Board of Education possess the courage and integrity to mandate that all new athletic fields will be organically maintained, state-of-the-art grass fields, without lights. This will be a win for the health and safety of our children and our planet now, and for generations to come.