Bedford Health Board to Share Risks, Acknowledge Benefits of Synthetic Turf

March 6, 2024

The Bedford Board of Health on Monday agreed to provide information on the potential risks of playing on synthetic turf when the proposed replacement of the current carpet comes up at the Annual Town Meeting on March 25.

The board, which did not take a position on the proposal, also will mention the health benefits.

The $1.1 million maintenance is part of the capital article. The Select Board, Finance Committee, and School Committee have voted to support the project, which is expected to be voted upon separately from the group of expenses in the capital expenditure article. Individuals are expected to speak against the expenditure, citing health concerns linked to the surface and the cushioning material inside. 

On Monday, the three members of the Board of Health at the monthly meeting agreed to replicate a state Department of Public Health fact sheet on proper use of synthetic turf, either as a projection on the auditorium screen or as a handout. 

Board chair Susan Schwartz said if she presents a projected slide, she also will mention that synthetic fields enable better health by expanding opportunities for physical activity.

Maureen Richichi commented that “there are some health concerns related to turf fields that are legitimate,” such as research showing a greater risk of injury to lower extremities than on natural grass. 

“There are many chemicals that are in the substances” embedded in the product, “but there is no evidence of an impact on human health from that,” she said. “There are many benefits, including increased physical activity. Communities need to weigh all the factors.” 

Infill material made of crumb rubber “is the biggest concern,” Richichi said, acknowledging that there are alternatives on the market. “We can clearly say that at this point there is no conclusive evidence” of a problem, Richichi added.

“I don’t know how you can say turf is more or less toxic unless someone does soil studies on all the grass fields,” said member Ann Kiessling. 

Richichi said the board should emphasize that “the town will stay abreast of research in case there is a new development that we can take action on.”

She noted that one improvement would be nearby hand-washing stations following contact with the carpet. There are also concerns about heat retention. 

“I think it’s important that the town knows we provided this information,” Richichi said. “The more opportunities we have to give relevant, good information to people, then we’re doing our job.”

Robin Steele, chair of the Recreation Commission, attended the meeting and noted that improved shock absorbency – designed especially to deter concussions – is a standard feature of state-of-the-art synthetic turf, and the Select Board also will have choices of infill that is not made of rubber.

Steele told the board that the synthetic field is “a huge benefit to the Recreation Department,” and without it, outdoor programming could be reduced by as much as 70 percent. She added that she was told that the cost of upgrading the town’s natural grass fields with drainage would cost millions of dollars.

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