Letter: Organic natural grass is the safest option

Posted 1/24/23

To the editor:

The Barrington Times is again calling for the town to install plastic grass at Victory Field and beyond. I would like to re-share some relevant facts about synthetic turf.

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Letter: Organic natural grass is the safest option


To the editor:

The Barrington Times is again calling for the town to install plastic grass at Victory Field and beyond. I would like to re-share some relevant facts about synthetic turf.

- Synthetic turf is unregulated. It is subject to no health or safety standards nor is it regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission as a children’s product.i

- Synthetic turf is not recyclable. ii  A typical field includes 600,000 lb of material. iii When the plastic wears out every 5 to 10 years, it will go to a landfill. Over and over and over again. A recent call to RI Resource Recovery confirmed there is still no recycling for plastic turf and no plan to create a way. 

- Synthetic turf made of crumb rubber contains lead, mercury, cadmium and other known carcinogens.iv The US EPA launched a multi-agency research effort in 2016 that is ongoing.v

- Alternatives to crumb rubber, like silica, cork, coconut infill, are unregulated. These "natural" materials still generate dust that children could inhale. The risks to human health are unknown.vi

- Synthetic turf is associated with increased rates of turf burns (skin abrasions). These abrasions are a risk factor for serious bacterial infections.vii

- Synthetic turf is flammable and requires routine application of maintenance chemicals. To obtain the look and feel of grass, the plastic grass blades are softened with plasticizers. Additionally, stabilizers may be required to prevent photo-degradation from the sun, and flame retardants are applied to make the surface non-flammable. Sanitizers must be applied to keep fields clean and minimize infections.viii The blades become brittle over time and with exposure causing blade fragments which add to the waste infill dust.

- Synthetic fields get hot, really hot. High surface-level temperatures recorded on these fields compared to natural turf have been well-documented, and it requires monitoring and a plan for when it’s use must be restricted.ix I personally saw this at BU graduation last May where medical attention was repeatedly needed during the ceremony on their "field" in 90+ degree temperatures.

- Synthetic turf is 2.5x more expensive than natural grass. Full lifecycle costs, including installation, maintenance, and disposal/replacement add up.x 

- PFAS is present in Synthetic turf. We do not want PFAS on our children's skin nor in our waterways. xi

I believe organic natural grass is the safest option for our children and our town. If we choose to invest in state-of-the-art organic natural grass fields guided by a turf grass expert with a long-term comprehensive field management plan with an eye towards adding more fields (also currently recommended), the health of our children, athletes, waterways, and our planet would be better protected. i

Please add your voice to the current town survey. Synthetic turf is not good for our kids or Barrington. 

Sarah O'Brien



ii https://www.fairwarning.org/2019/12/fields-of-waste-artificial-turf-mess/ 

iii http://www.synturf.org/disposal.html [No. 05] Current theory and practice of dealing with used artificial turf fields. 

iv https://www.safehealthyplayingfields.org/toxicity-carcinogens 

v https://www.epa.gov/chemical-research/federal-research-recycled-tire-crumb-used-playing-fields 

vi http://www.ehhi.org/summary-turf.pdf vii https://www.turi.org/TURI_Publications/TURI_Chemical_Fact_Sheets/Artificial_Turf_Fact_Sheet2 

viii https://fieldturf.com/workspace/uploads/files/brochure-maintenanceguidelines-fieldturf-jul2018-en.pdf 

ix https://www.nrpa.org/parks-recreation-magazine/2019/may/synthetic-sports-fields-and-the-heat-island-effect/

x https://www.turi.org/content/download/13271/203906/file/Factsheet.Artificial+Turf.September2020.pdf  

xi https://www.turi.org/content/download/12963/201149/file/TURI+fact+sheet+-+PFAS+in+artificial+turf.pdf 

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.