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District residents call for synthetic turf field

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A group of East Meadow School District residents have been pressing for a synthetic turf field — as opposed to the existing natural one — at East Meadow High School, which they believe will be beneficial for student athletes and the community.

“It would be a great asset to our school, the community and for people who are buying into the neighborhood,” said Fran Botman, a mother of an incoming East Meadow High School senior.

A petition posted on Change.Org titled, “EMPAC and the East Meadow Community for Synthetic Turf for a Multi Use Field at EMHS”, has gained over 580 signatures in favor of the alternative field.

The petition comes over a year after East Meadow residents approved a bond that would fund major renovations to the schools, including a refurbishment of the natural grass fields. However, the changes will not come quick, as it will take three years for all turfs to be restored.

“We have to be patient because as important as it is to get everything done, it’s important to get it right,” said Arthur Williams, the assistant to the superintendent for administration and special projects. “We have to work with architects and we have to work with [the New York State Department of Education] and we have to get State Ed’s approval because we need to get aid on our projects so that we can keep taxes low and make the projects as affordable as possible.”

The resistance for synthetic turf was prompted by ongoing discoveries of the health defects possibly caused by artificial turfs, such as cancers, injuries, second degree burns, illnesses and infections.

Synthetic turfs, which are often presented as a low maintenance asset since they do not require watering, mowing or fertilizing, may contain numerous chemical toxins, according to local nonprofit Grassroots Environmental Education. In fact, recycled tires are used as the crumb rubber that cushions the field.

“The number one problem with synthetic turf is the toxicity of the crumb rubber granules that are used as infill,” said Patti Wood, the executive director of Grass Roots. “You have no idea when playing on a field what kind of rubber you are playing on and what the chemical composition of those original tires that you’re playing on was.”

The crumb rubber may contain human carcinogens, according to Grass Roots. Some of these chemicals include arsenic and carbon black, which is known to damage lungs.

However, after Amy Griffin, a soccer coach from Washington, compiled a list of 200 soccer players who were diagnosed with cancer, the Washington State Department of Health conducted the 2017 study, “Investigation of Reported Cancer Among Soccer Players in Washington State.”

The study found that the current available research on the health effects of artificial turf does not present a significant public health risk. The Washington DOH did state, however, that the research is limited due to a lack of adequate information on the subject.

“All surrounding schools have the turf and the question of it being bad for our kids is absurd because we play against all those schools,” Botman said. “I vote yes every year and I’m very happy that funds go to maintenance and important things but we need to keep our fields in perfect conditions for our athletes to train instead of having craters and terrible conditions on the field.”

Wood expressed concern on other aspects of the synthetic turf, such as the high temperatures the fields can reach on hot days and body fluid contamination.

“What do athletes do? They spit, they vomit, they bleed, they sweat,” Wood said. “A body fluid spill on natural grass is never an issue because you have microbes that will actually just neutralize any of these pathogens that are coming from body fluid spills. When you have body fluid spills on plastic, it just stays there. You’re supposed to just clean those surfaces, get rid of the body fluid spills after every game. Nobody does that.”

Before the end of Summer 2018, W.T. Clarke schools will have a new multi-use sport field and, according to the bond status report, the new field will cost $700,000.

“I feel our school has one of the best records for winning state championships and we should be deserving of better fields for our kids,” Botman said. The East Meadow High School fields will not be refurbished until 2020.