Field Turf explainer / Source: Tarkett Co.
Tarkett Co. graphic used in 2014 report about Peirce Turf.

UPDATED March 16: The Select Board unanimously voted no action at its March 13 meeting on Article 12, which is anticipated at the upcoming Town Meeting. This citizen article is seeking a three-year moratorium on the installation of artificial turf on town land.

Town Manager Sandy Pooler also opposes this article, stating that three years is an artificial timeline not based on science. “It needs to be studied and better understood,” he said.

In a memo to the Select Board, Pooler wrote, “The water protection issues are in the purview of the Conservation Commission, the health issues are in the purview of the Health Department/Health Board and the funding recommendation issues are in the purview of the Town Manager. Town Meeting should not try to usurp those powers/responsibilities.”

“Instead, we need to look at them on a case-by-case basis,” Pooler said at the meeting, in response to citizen-article proponent Beth Melofchik, a Precinct 9 Town Meeting member.

On April 11, Arlington’s Conservation Commission and Parks & Recreation Commission together plan to sponsor a townwide forum about artificial turf, at which speakers on both sides of the issue will be able to share their views.

Select Board comments

John Hurd said, “Playing on a field that’s wet and muddy is a safety issue and creates an unsafe playing field. Artificial turf gives a flat, even playing surface. This warrant article is a clear negative to our kids, and it’s unfair to ask them to bear the burden. As a board, we’ve always supported [efforts to cope with] climate change, but everything has a cost/benefit analysis. There’s no way the Department of Public Works (DPW) can keep up with the maintenance of our playing fields, and artificial turf decreases our reliance on fields we have trouble keeping up. We won’t have artificial fields on every field in Arlington.” 

Select Board logo, 2019

Steve DeCourcey concurred with Hurd and said that this issue bears continued monitoring and testing. “Further discussions are needed on the merits of this project, and a case-by-case approach should be taken. Town Meeting will still have a chance to discuss the merits of this article; we don’t need a moratorium.”

“We need to bring in the proper experts; it cannot be a boilerplate solution. A three-year moratorium is insulting to the committees that work on these issues,” said Diane Mahon.

Eric Helmuth expressed concern about contamination and said that more hurdles must be overcome before any more artificial turf gets placed in Arlington. “I’m interested in the evolution of the scientific consensus, and what our Conservation Commission, Board of Health, Recreation Department and professional staff have to say. A blanket moratorium doesn’t feel right to me now.”

Residents weigh in

Several speakers concurred with the board:

  • Director of Recreation Joe Connelly said the Conservation Commission and Board of Health are best suited to make these decisions. “Organic natural grass fields are not a good alternative to artificial turf because it’s easily ripped up after rainstorms.” 
  • Park and Recreation Commission Chair Phil Lasker, a landscape architect and certified field builder who has built many natural and artificial fields, said that the commission adamantly opposes this article. “We’re tired of cancellations due to inclement weather and spending money to rent space at other towns that have artificial turf fields. Artificial turf fields are safe, and we’re committed to meeting the needs and uses of the environment. All fields should be reviewed on case-by-case basis.”
  • Arlington Soccer Club Board of Directors member Henry Brush said, “We cannot maintain high-quality grass fields in Arlington. Our fields get lots of usage and wear, so they are often sub-par despite the best efforts of the DPW. We need good fields that can be played on in all New England weather and don’t wear out. Banning turf fields can end this practice, and there are multiple options to mitigate environmental concerns.”
Expressing support

However, most people who spoke at the meeting supported the warrant article because of environmental issues:

  • Melofchik, the chief proponent, said that artificial turf has health and environmental hazards and that she does not want local children to be test subjects for dangerous chemicals. “Otherwise, the stage is set to allow more plastic turf fields. Artificial turf leaks toxic micro-plastics into the soil. Sports fields should not determine environmental policies, and plastic ones have too many unknown consequences. Grass fields help cool athletes, and artificial turf cannot be recycled.”
  • Wynelle Evans, a Precinct 14 Town Meeting member, said that installing plastic fields is a step backward for climate change. “We’re all part of the larger world and must all work together to fight climate change and think about what we want our children exposed to.” 
  • Patricia Muldoon, a Precinct 20 Town Meeting member, said, “It’s essential to extend the moratorium for environmental concerns, costs issues and safety reasons. The town cannot afford a challenge to our residents’ and wildlife health, artificial turf is 2½ times more expensive than natural grass and heat islands will result in more athlete heat burns. A moratorium is the most sensible approach to take to research the science.”
  • Laura Vecchione said, “During the summer, artificial turf fields can heat up to 140 degrees. This leads to heat islands and kids collapsing, and is linked to glioblastomas and skin lesions."  
  • Robin Bergman, a Precinct 12 meeting member, said, “This is a moratorium, not a ban, to give us time to consider all the details. There’s increasing evidence of the hazards of artificial turf. The regulations are not yet in progress, so a reasonable amount of time is needed to study the science.”
  • Lynette Culverhouse, a Precinct 11 meeting member, wants to give Town Meeting a chance to debate and vote on this issue. “I’m an avid gardener and love everything that grows out of the Earth. We’re permanently removing the possibility to grow things on our land, and [I] shudder to think of the effects this’ll have. Let’s give the town three years to gather more information about the dangers of artificial turf. This makes no sense for Arlington’s net-zero goal.”
  • Jordan Weinstein of Precinct 21 said that, in his two years of service, "Town Meeting has discussed growing concern over the environment. I believe there’s strong support for this article. We’re looking to study it more, and we need time to look into this. There are no safe alternatives to artificial turf except real grass.”
  • “I hope there’ll be favorable action, so we can discuss this at Town Meeting,” said Paul Schlichtman, a Precinct 9 Town Meeting member.

Peirce Field, at Arlington High School, has had synthetic turf for years. 

Watch the March 13 meeting on ACMi >> 

Dec, 18, 2014: As turf at Peirce Field wears, schools seek $500K replacement 


This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert was published Wednesday, March 15, 2023, and updated March 16, to add ACMi video link.

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