"Is the installation of artificial turf a positive change for Blair?"

June 5, 2009, midnight | By Rebecca Guterman Rebecca Novello | 12 years, 11 months ago

This summer, the Montgomery County Department of Parks and Planning will install artificial infilled turf in Blazer stadium to replace the natural grass field. The turf will be made of a mix of recycled rubber and other chemicals and will be installed at Blair because the natural grass field was deemed overused. Detractors protest its environmental impact while athletes welcome its even surface.

Rebecca Guterman says YES: Artificial turf installation will benefit the Blair community

Blair has faced a lot of changes this year, from InfoFlow during first block to weekly advisories. At last, we can look forward to a change in Blair's external realm that is clearly in favor of every student: the installation of artificial turf in Blazer Stadium. Although it may seem like just another ordinary change to the old Blair routine, the numerous benefits of the new synthetic turf show that it will be a valuable addition to the community.

Currently, there are approximately 90 games played each year on every MCPS field, according to William Beattie, MCPS coordinator of athletics. If one considers JV and varsity teams, different seasons, community teams, regular games and playoff games using the field at Blair, it's not hard to see how quickly the numbers add up. Ninety games, in addition to practice time, is a lot for one field to put up with, as natural grass is not meant for such heavy usage - especially if it's expected to regrow overnight for games one day after another.

Okay, so it may be hard to pity a grass field. More relatable is the sad plight of injured athletes. Worn-down natural grass fields have detrimental effects on athletes' gameplay and bodies, until the fields become too shabby for the athletes to continuing using them. Time wears down the fields, which become full of deep holes that prove especially tricky in slippery conditions.

As the organic field falls into its annually decrepit state, the cost of field maintenance becomes a huge issue. Since grass cannot actually regrow itself every night, sometimes the sports teams themselves have to help replant grass when it wears out. The vast amount of financial resources spent on watering and fertilizer for the grass is also critical. $53,500 in annual operating costs is a lot of money to spend when there is such an easy alternative that would cost only $8,100 annually, according to a 2008 MCPS report on the costs and benefits of artificial turf.

The report says that just 10 years would be more than enough time for the turf to compensate for initial installation costs, based on MCPS predictions. And in terms of durability, one artificial turf field is the equivalent of six regular practice fields and requires less maintenance, according to the report. In other words, the artificial turf will be able to handle six times the current load of athletic use without suffering any of the same wear and tear as the grass field and will provide six times more availability for sports teams.

But the issue that concerns most Blair athletes is protection from dirt-holes-that-should-be-grass injuries and the even more dangerous clumps-of-grass-that-should-be-dirt injuries. Some may say that artificial turf is more dangerous than natural grass, but Patricia McManus, design section supervisor at the Montgomery County Department of Parks and Planning, who is leading the installation of the field, says that information she has gathered indicates there are no major differences in injuries. The same study, which focused on high school football injuries on infill surfaces compared with natural surfaces, also found that fewer severe and long-term injuries were sustained on the artificial turf than on natural grass.

Though the number of injuries usually worsens as the weather worsens, the benefits of artificial fields become much more apparent in bad weather. Unlike plain old dirt, the rubber mix material of turf does not become a huge mud puddle in the rain, which means that lightning will be the only weather condition deemed unsafe for play. And the fewer limitations on when the fields can be used, the more playing time for school teams and community use.

At face value, synthetic turf may just not seem important. But after a closer look, the turf installation has the potential to be one of the most important improvements to Blair that will take place next year, as the school can look forward to saving money and maximizing both field use and team play. Synthetic turf will always be there to break falls - without breaking the bank or body.

Rebecca Novello says NO: It poses dangers to student health and the environment.

The grass may be greener on the other side, but it certainly won't lead to a greener future.

Even with the proper maintenance needed to keep artificial turf clean and safe for play, synthetic fields create severe dangers for athletes and the environment that could be avoided entirely with a healthy organic field. One of the main selling points of artificial turf fields is that they do not require the hassle of irrigation. Water cannot soak into a soil base as it does on a natural grass field, so runoff washes off of the sides of the turf, leaving a perfectly dry, seemingly harmless field. But contrary to the sales pitch, the contaminated water carried off of the fields should be a substantial concern.

When the chemicals used in artificial turf are brought to light, a gentle rain washing away the sweat of a game doesn't seem so harmless. The "crumb rubber” used as infill on modern synthetic turf fields is made from recycled tire rubber. Since the kindergarten years of environmental jingles, we have learned to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle in order to save our environment, but this crumb rubber, which contains carcinogens and toxins like lead and arsenic, has no place on a surface as impervious as artificial turf. Without soil to absorb the water and its contaminants, the chemicals wash off of the fields and can leach into nearby water sources. A Wayland, Massachusetts Conservation Commission lab found that levels of lead in water runoff from an artificial turf field were 100 times above the drinking water action levels. Levels of thallium, another toxin, were seven times above EPA regulation.

But following another of our key kindergarten environmental lessons - making a better world for generations to come - let's put these immediate hazards aside for a moment and look into the not-so-distant future to an artificial turf's demise. When the lifespan of a turf field is up, what do we do with the leftovers? Because they contain such toxic substances, crumb tire pellets are not accepted by most landfills. Yet another visionary move on the part of large industries leaves Blazer Stadium at the wrong end of a bogus recycling deal.

Though recycled crumb rubber may have an appropriate use in the modern world, it should be kept far away from our sports fields. A bit of head scratching seems appropriate when dangerous materials are recycled into a field on which students sprint, slide and tumble. The rubber pellets, toxins and all, fly up upon impact. They can catch in clothing when athletes fall and are often carried away from the field; many athletes can attest to having seen the spray of black dots when they shake out their shin guards after a rough game.

And here's where it really heats up: Since the black crumb rubber absorbs heat, and turf has no soil water to moderate temperature on the field, overheating can become a major issue. Unlike natural grass, turf temperatures can rise to extreme heights, magnifying athletes' risk of heat stroke during the hot months. In a recent study, a Wayland engineer found that when air temperature was around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, turf field temperatures were above 150 degrees (higher than nearby asphalt levels). A glaringly green color simply isn't worth the endangerment of student health.

The artificial turf industry often cites studies which seem to show that neither turf nor natural fields causes more injury, only different types of injury. However, in the 2004 NFL Players Association's (NFLPA) Playing Surfaces Opinion Survey, 91.2 percent felt that artificial turf was more likely than natural grass to contribute to injury. Athletes have had their say - the vote is no.

A well-maintained organic field would be an equally effective, considerably greener alternative to the impending artificial turf. Without fertilizers or the pressing hazards of a turf field, an organic field would provide present and future athletes with a healthy environment to get in the game.

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Rebecca Guterman. Rebecca Guterman loves being on Silver Chips! In what little spare time she has left over, she loves to play the piano, dance really badly, and listen to music. Above all, seeing and talking to friends 24/7 is a must. Even though most of her … More »

Rebecca Novello. Rebecca is a senior. More »

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