Thursday, August 27, 2015

Opinion: Healthy Playing Fields are Important for our Children

From Rebecca MacLachlan, resident of our city.
Bravo for Mayor Drew and 5 council members for voting to support the health of our children by removing language from a referendum that would allow for artificial turf playing fields. And, our heartfelt thanks to Councilwoman Mary Bartolotta, who proposed that the referendum specifically be for natural grass playing fields only. Deb Kleckowski, Hope Kasper, Bob Santangelo and James Streeto all voted in favor of keeping toxic plastic artificial grass out of our referendum and out of our children’s sports fields. The referendum that will go before the voters this November represents a better health choice for our children and community.

This is a big step forward for the health of our children and our environment, but we still need to maintain our fields organically without the use of chemicals and pesticides. There have been numerous studies that link many of the pesticides and chemicals put on grass fields to increased risk of asthma, several types cancers, birth defects, reproductive problems, nervous and immune system disorders, liver and kidney damage. Studies have recently shown that even ambient exposure to pesticides has been found to considerably increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Our neighbors in Branford and Cheshire have been successfully maintaining their fields organically for over 8 years. We should follow suit!

We all want to improve our playing fields, but playing sports should be a healthy outlet and not played on fields that can make our kids sick. Support for this referendum, as well as our continued work to go organic, deserves a big yes vote in November.

Rebecca MacLachlan


John Milardo said...

Bravo that a referendum to improve parks is finally going to the voters. We will soon find out if the voters feel a good parks system is what they want for our town? I'm also glad to see the elimination of synthetic turf surfaces for athletes to play on. Natural grass fields will work with the cooperation and understanding from all the leagues who utilize them.
Let's see if and when the renovations begin that the Common Council will properly fund the Parks Division instead of reducing it as has been the common practice over the years.

Lieutponz said...

I respectfully must disagree with the accolades being showered upon the Common Council for this move. After all the hard work done by the P&R Deptartment to solve for the many demands for fields by many organizations, to have a minority of people offer a very one-sided argument to the Council and box out the possibility of even some fields being artificial turf was an abuse of the system. Without balanced representation and without the necessary information, the Council should have tabled the vote until additional facts were understood.

To suggest that synthetic turf fields are a health hazard is to ignore significant volume of objective work done by a wide variety of organizations that shows that there is no increased health risk by using artificial turf fields.

Also, by elimiating artificial turf as an option, we are left to vote a $36 million referendum that would NOT solve the problem of insufficient field supply. John Milardo suggest that it's an issue of cooperation. But that's not the case. It's a simple issue of supply and demand. The artificial turf fields were a the keystone to the project because they would offer the right amount of available playing time for the city organizations that need the fields. Natural grass fields, as nice as they may be (if propertly watered, cut, fertilizied and left to rest as needed) offer significantly less playing time and do not allow for immediate transition from one sport to another. With a "natural grass only" requirement, the only way to accommodate the needs of all the city's athletic organizations would be to build more fields and increase the resources at P&R to maintain them.

I was a big supporter of the process to develop this plan and related referendum and I am a big supporter of capital improvements to the city's parks and fields. The benefits to our residents and our local businesses would have been enormous. However, I cannot support a referendum that will not solve the problems that spawned the plan and referendum in the first place.

The "environmentalits" and Council members to voted to change the language of the referendum have done the City of Middletown a great disservice.


Darrell Ponzio

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...


I understand your concerns about the need to have enough fields where league teams can play.

If the city had spent dollars keeping all the existing fields up to snuff, maybe we wouldn't need to have this discussion. Palmer Field is immaculate, and there's no reason all other city fields aren't in the same shape, except the money hasn't been there to maintain them.

In addition, parks are not just for sports leagues. They are for all citizens. The Public Works Department invited coaches and leagues to participate in their forums, but such invites were not extended to other interested parties, including the Board of Education. Many fields are adjacent to, and part of the schools.

When you say a minority of people made the decision, I'm not sure what you mean. The Council is supposed to be representative of the entire town, not just sport leagues. There are probably a few thousand individuals who play in sports leagues in town. There are 4600 students who use those fields. And there are 46,000 residents.

The opinion about safety and health expressed at the Common Council meeting reflects the opinion of the "minority" who spoke, and many other people in town who don't want grass fields wrapped in plastic and recycled waste.

The report commissioned by Public Works and the council committee was written to sell the idea of artificial turf. What about the minority at schools like Bielfield, Spencer and Macdonough, where fields and greenspaces were totally ignored by the report?

We need good parks in the city, and plenty of fields for amateur athletes to play on. What we don't need is fields where toxic materials are used.

Ed McKeon

Anonymous said...

The Cheshire field us not organic, its synthetic.

Lieutponz said...

Ed, in reply to your comments:

"If the city had spent dollars..." - Funding could help to ensure improved field conditions but no amount of money spent on exisitng fields would solve the problem of insufficient field supply. The existing inventory of fields is dramatically overused. Overuse is the primary reason for the very sad, often unplayable conditions of most of the City's fields. Use of Palmer Field is extremely limited and as such the grass is allowed to rest and recover. P&R simply cannot enforce those kinds of restrictions on our other fields. Unlike natural grass fields, artificial turf fields can be played on during and immediately after rain events, which greatly increases the amount of available field hours in a given week. And, because they are typically semi-permanently lined for all sports, artificial turf fields can accommodate a wide variety of sports all in the same day. None of this flexibility can be found at Palmer or any other natural grass field.

"In addition, parks are not just for sports leagues.." - BOE representatives were at the information session I attended, including the HS Athletic Director and several coaches.

"When you say a minority of people..." - What I mean is that 25 environmentally conscious citizens, preying on fear instead of offering facts, coerced a change to the requirements of a referendum that many more people had read and supported as originally written. Those 25 people do not represent the interests of the entire City and yet based only on their dialogue, the referendum was changed. It just happens to be that the many athletic organizations in the City, including those from all the various schools, would benefit the most given the very large percentage of time they use the fields.

"The opinion about safety and health..." - That's the problem. It was an opinion. The P&Z Commission submitted to the Common Council and Mayor 5 documents that offer fact-based studies that all say the same thing - artificial turf and the crumb rubber used on them are safe. As an example, refer to EHS Circular Letter #2015-02 from the State of CT Dept. of Public Health issued Jan 2015 which concludes "...the CT DPH position expressed in 2011 at the conclusion of the Connecticut study, that outdoor artificial turf fields do not represent an elevated health risk, remains unchanged." As for "grass fields wrapped in plastic and recycled waste", that's the view of what I am certain is a small minority. Every athletic team I've ever played on or coached (and there have been many) is thrilled to play on an artificial surface.

"The report commissioned by Public Works..." - It was absolutely NOT written to sell the idea of artificial turf. Milone & MacBroom was charged with 1) performing an analysis of existing conditions, 2) performing a demand analysis, and 3) offering recommendations for improvement. You'll notice that in the recommendations for the 10 athletic facilities, they recommended renovation of natural grass turf on 8 fields and artificial turf on 4 fields. It was a fair and balanced. As for Bielefield, Spencer & MacDonough, it's a fair question. Perhaps they are not used frequently enough to be considered "overused".

"We need good parks in the city..." - Agree. We should have world-class facilities. To suggest, however that using artificial turf would mean that toxic materials are being used is an example of the unfair, inaccurate, hype-generating comments that coerce Council members and citizens into making poor, uninformed decisions. Per the CT DEEP, "...we found there to be very little exposure of any substances, carcinogenic or not, in the vapors and dust that these fields generate under active use, summer conditions. Background levels of chemicals in urban and suburban air from heating sources and automobile traffic are much more significant sources of airborne carcinogens."

Darrell Ponzio

John Milardo said...

Just a couple of years ago, I remember Middletown Youth Soccer telling everyone at a Common Council meeting that once they get their fields at Country Club and Longhill Roads completed, there would be no need to use City fields anymore. Their miscalculation is now going to cost the taxpayer additional millions.
In the past, they have refused to play at certain fields which were open for use, (for whatever reason they determined, and did not comply with the game/practice field policy we had in place. This led to overuse and deterioration of many to all the fields.
If you think choosing artificial turf has no maintenance, you are wrong! It requires only slightly less maintenance - just different types and equipment. You can look it up because the comparisons are just too lengthy to print here.
The Parks Department already has the equipment required to maintain healthy natural turf grass, the only thing lacking is manpower and funding. Those two ingredients are needed for a good park system no matter what you put on the ground.
There is more to City parks than mowing and lining of fields. Most other aspects of the departments functions have to be neglected just for the upkeep of playing fields.
The City politicians need to properly fund this division once and for all, or really think about closing it down!

Lieutponz said...

Also, with respect to Palmer Field (as perhaps the only example of a high-quality grass turf field in the City of Middletown), I would like to point out that the City spends $40,000 per year just to water that one field. That is a significant on-going investment, an enormous use of a natural resource, which in my view puts into question the environmental benefits of a natural turf field. All for a field that is very lightly used and is never made available to the vast majority of the City's residents.


Anonymous said...


I work in Cheshire. Do you know that the High School Football Field is Synthetic Turf? I will wait for your reply.