CORNWALL - A proposal to install an artificial turf field at Cornwall High School has set off concern over potential environmental and health risks.
On Monday, school board members unanimously approved putting a proposed $23 million capital project up for community vote in May. In addition to a wide range of improvements for five school buildings, the plan includes a synthetic turf field with an estimated cost of $8.4 million.
Cornwall schools superintendent Terry Dade said the proposal is based on "critical infrastructure needs." There would be no tax impact thanks to an influx of state aid and the district’s adequate capital reserve fund.
The projects have been recommended by the district's facility committee after it had reviewed building conditions and conducted a community survey. According to the survey, athletic facilities improvement is the most discussed topic and gains an overall positive response.
The turf field is the only component in the athletic facilities project and the cost ranks highest among all upgrades. It would include a six-lane track and a 1,250-seat stadium.
Artificial turf fields have been used for decades as a playing surface for professional and collegiate athletes. They have proliferated more recently in public parks and schools around the nation as a cost-effective, more durable alternative to grass.
However, some parents have raised concerns about potential health and safety hazards of the artificial turf field.
Rob Kirkpatrick, a Cornwall native and a former high school soccer coach, said the first time he noticed the issue was in 2015, when his son, now a soccer player, was born. He referred to "several reports and studies" that discussed dangers of “black dots” of crumb-rubber synthetic turf that become airborne from contact and ingested by athletes. His concern also centers on whether carcinogens are in the artificial turf and whether its surface can reach dangerously high temperatures on summer days.
“We are the adults in the room. Our kids look to us to keep them safe. If we cannot 100% guarantee to our children that synthetic turf fields do not pose elevated health hazards, it would be irresponsible of us to make our children play on such surfaces,” said Kirkpatrick.
According to a 2019 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, synthetic turf fields have been installed in the U.S. since the 1960s. There are about 13,000 synthetic turf sports fields, with approximately 1,200-1,500 new installations each year. About 95% of synthetic turf fields utilize recycled rubber infill exclusively or in a mixture with sand or alternative infills.
School districts across the region have added numerous turf fields over the past decade — Monroe-Woodbury has replaced two grass athletic fields.
The synthetic surfaces used in turf fields have been a hot-button issue for years. While a 2015 report conducted on behalf of then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says there is no scientific evidence that synthetic turf fields in the state pose major health hazards for people playing on them, a bill was signed years later that requires New York City parks and health departments to ensure a thorough review of materials going into future playing fields.
Although the study by the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that “while chemicals are present,” human exposure “appears to be limited based on what is released into air,” it acknowledged the findings were incomplete.
Cornwall's superintendent Dade acknowledged the community’s concern and said the district will bring in an independent consultant to provide more information.
“It’s important to note that we are one of the few districts that does not have a (synthetic) turf field so this is not a new addition to high schools. (Synthetic) turf fields have been installed across the country. We’ll be using what they’ve learned,” said Dade.
This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: Cornwall's proposed turf field prompts a debate