Turf Talk At Town Hall

Kitty Merrill

Could artificial turf pose a health hazard to athletes who play on it? That was the question that dominated conversation in town hall last Thursday, as members of the Southampton Town Board mulled its installation on the east field at Red Creek Park in Hampton Bays.

A resolution seeking authorization for the $184,000 installation sparked discourse. Town Parks Director Kristen Doulos led off, reminding that the town installed synthetic turf on a Little League infield about two years ago and it’s been “working great.” Maintenance costs are reduced with the use of the material comprised of crumb rubber, silicon sand, and plastic blades of “grass.”

According to the director, representatives from local ball leagues support the use of the synthetic, and reported an approximately 70 percent increase in field playability. Rain delays have substantially decreased, as have injuries. With natural fields, after storms, maintenance crews must spend “hours on end” to make the surfaces playable, the director said. The faux field has been “tremendously successful for us,” Doulos offered.

Asked by Supervisor Jay Schneiderman about the potential health and environmental impacts of the synthetic material, Doulos said there have been over 60 studies and “The science hasn’t proven any health impact.”

The studies are compiled by the industry itself, Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni pointed out. The federal Center for Disease Control is currently conducting a study, and said the lawmaker, “The initial findings are not exactly positive.”

A former member of the board of education in Sag Harbor, Schiavoni informed that the district voted down a proposition looking to install synthetic turf at school fields. “I’m philosophically opposed to crumb rubber. I will be voting no,” Schiavoni said.

Councilwoman Julie Lofstad said she, too, is concerned. She’d like to see the final version of the CDC study, but was informed it could take years to complete.

Councilman John Bouvier wondered about the environmental impact a natural field might have. Doulos said the town uses no fertilizers or pesticides on its dirt and grass fields.

Board members asked Doulos to craft a cost comparison of the expense of maintenance and replacement of synthetic turf and the installation of natural grass. The turf seems low maintenance, Schiavoni said, but the “rugs” do need replacement after a time. Bouvier asked for an inventory of town fields.

Schneiderman and Councilwoman Christine Scalera appeared to favor the artificial turf, but agreed their colleagues’ questions deserved answers. The measure was tabled.

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