NORWALK, Conn. — The city is going ahead with artificial turf for the new softball field at Brien McMahon High School, even if some Common Council members are not quite cool with the idea of CoolPlay.
“The reason why this item is off consent this evening is because a number of us on Council have begun to question whether turf fields are as safe as they have been represented to us to be. There seems to be conflicting research in the field to determine the levels of toxicity that these fields possess,” Council member Lisa Shanahan (D-District E) said Tuesday.”
The Council went on to approve a contract with Field Turf USA to install CoolPlay at BMHS for a maximum $260,487.90, on a 10-0-3 vote, with several Council members promising to take a hard look at future projects.
Artificial turf has drawn pushback before; a year ago, Shanahan issued the sole no vote against the turf for the West Rocks Middle School soccer complex, while stressing that her own children played sports their entire lives.
“I absolutely love field sports, and especially for young women,” she said Tuesday.
But Democrats had had a long discussion in their Monday evening caucus and she agreed to represent some of the views expressed, she said.
“The crumb rubber on fields are said to contain petrol chemical products that are carcinogenic if they’re consumed,” Shanahan said. “These small pieces of rubber migrate off the fields and shoes and then people’s clothes to people’s homes. They might run off the fields in heavy rains into our water wells and into our waterways. The chemicals that are used to maintain the fields also contain some toxic chemicals that can get into our waterways, and really even into our children’s skins through cuts and bruises. The turf fields themselves are said to be more dangerous for athletes in that there’s a reportedly higher incidence of concussions and knee injuries on turf fields rather than grass fields.”
She said, “Even more concerning perhaps to me is that we’re taking some of our most precious green open spaces and covering them in plastic, which has detrimental impacts by creating heat islands close to schools, water management issues, and not to mention environmental risk to our local wildlife.”
And then there’s the disposal problem when the field reaches the end of its useful life, she said.
“I cannot vote yes to install an additional turf field in Norwalk until we do more research to reassure ourselves that these fields do not pose a serious risk to our children to our water wells into our waterways,” Shanahan said.
David Heuvelman (D-District A) said he agreed with the bulk of Shanahan’s statement.
“I feel that it is it would be irresponsible of us to move to vote yes,” Heuvelman said. “Because I have voted in the past for other turf fields, I’m going to be abstaining tonight. And moving forward, I think that we have to take a serious look at what we are doing, what these fields are made of, and what we are doing to our environment by the use of these products.”
Darlene Young (D-District B), chair of the Recreation and Parks Committee, emphasized that the BMHS field is the culmination of a 2-year process, including public hearings.
“As we’ve shared, you know, in our caucus meeting, there haven’t been any other reporting on the state level or federal level yet with the with the products that we’re choosing to put into the field,” Young said. “And actually, we changed the material based on the response from the community, it might not be the best choice, but that is where we are right now.”
Not an easy decision, but the softball players have been waiting a long time, she said.
Diana Révolus (D-District B) cited her own naivete on the matter as a new Council member and her status as a “tree hugger” in explaining why she’d abstain.
Council member Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) said that in previous decisions, “We had been reassured by you know, the current research that all the universities that have medical schools are using the same type of turf, and that it had been deemed safe.”
But, she said, “There are more and more articles that we’re reading that expressed concerns about the turf fields. And so now I am going to support this tonight. I think it’s important for our athletes, for our families who very much want this and you know, to have fields to play on. But moving forward, I think we just have a lot more work to do and a lot more research to do.”
“I will be supporting the approval of this turf field,” Council member Greg Burnett (D-At Large) said. “As I do believe that it’s greatly needed to advance the activities at Brien McMahon High School, but I also support taking a pause, taking a pause to do more research, more evaluation, obtain more knowledge.”
Like others, he lauded Interim Recreation and Parks Department Director Ken Hughes for all the information he provided.
George Tsiranides (D-District D) and Kadeem Roberts (D-District A) also supported the turf installation.
“Until something even better comes along and hopefully it will, I know Ken will always keep his ear to the ground and keep us apprised of any things that are coming along. But we do owe it to the parents and the students that I’ve been waiting for this field for my four years (on the Council), I know for sure. Some even longer,” Tsiranides said.
“Something like that is opportunity for the youth, you know, and that’s big to me, being a future educator as well,” Roberts said. “So I think that is that’s absolutely, you know, a need for these women. Also, I do understand that 100% agree as well, we got do our due diligence when it comes to these fields, guys. It’s definitely important.”
Thomas Keegan (R-District D), Tom Livingston (D-District E), Dominique Johnson (D-At Large), Manny Langella (D-At Large), Nick Sacchinelli (D-At Large), Burnett, Young, Smyth, Roberts and Tsiranides voted in favor. Heuvelman, Shanahan and Révolus abstained.
District C Democrats John Kydes and George Theodoridis were absent from the Zoom call.