Updated on October 16, 2017.
Earlier this year, the Middle School Building Committee in North Haven, Connecticut, voted unanimously to install two new artificial-turf fields at a cost of more than $2 million. After a series of public meetings, some phone calls to experts, and a little debate, the committee had decided the easy maintenance of artificial turf outweighed the alleged but unproven health risks for students who play on it. Just in case, committee members opted for the less controversial encapsulated crumb-rubber infill over the traditional crumb rubber option.
“I felt confident that the material had been studied many times, in many different places, in many different ways and it was a safe material,” Gary Johns, the committee’s chair, told me last month.
But some parents in town weren’t convinced. Amanda Gabriele had heard of a supposed link between crumb rubber and cancer and became increasingly concerned the more she read about the infill material. Soon after the fields were approved, she—along with fellow parent Danielle Morfi and others—launched an organization called North Haven Against Shredded Tire Infill and demanded the town reconsider its decision to install a synthetic surface. Since then, Gabriele and Morfi say, NHASTI members have been told to move, sent nasty messages on social media, scorned at public meetings, and glared at in public. And they’ve gotten nowhere in stopping the artificial-turf fields. “Our concerns,” Gabriele said, “have fallen on not only deaf ears but also aggressive ears.”
More than 8,000 artificial-turf surfaces are currently in use across America, from youth sports fields to professional stadiums, according to the Synthetic Turf Council. The fields are durable, rain-resistant, and low-maintenance, and their sleek designs appeal to young athletes and their parents. But in recent years, some researchers have raised concerns about the safety of these surfaces and their infills, which are typically made from scrap tires, causing parents like Gabriele to agonize over the fields’ impact on kids’ health.