PFAs add to Norwalk Council’s concern about artificial turf fields

Tuesday’s Norwalk Common Council meeting on Zoom.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk needs to reconsider its use of artificial turf on playing fields given its “many dangerous features,” Common Council member Lisa Shanahan (D-District E) said.

“By far and away, the greatest danger that artificial fields pose to all of us, whether we play on the field or not, is to our drinking water,” Shanahan said Tuesday. “There is not a turf field constructed today that does not have high levels of PFAs embedded in its materials. That includes the so-called new and improved fields that have crumb rubber infields. This PFAs leeches immediately upon installation and the leaching increases as the fields age.”

Four Council members then voted against a $28,499 purchase of an artificial turf field groomer. Shanahan said the equipment seemed “a bit like buying an ashtray when you’re trying to stop smoking.”

PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1940s. They have been used to make nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics, some firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water, and oil.

“What began as a so-called miracle groundbreaking technology meant for practicality and convenience, quickly devolved into one of the most pressing environmental and public health concerns in the modern world,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan is quoted as saying Tuesday.

Shanahan’s comments came two weeks after the Norwalk River Watershed Association and other concerned citizens held a webinar on the hazards of artificial turf. Activist Diane Lauricella has long campaigned against artificial turf and has recently peppered the Council with emails on the topic, advocating for a moratorium on turf installations, a summit on the topic and other things, including an ordinance to ban artificial fields because “If we can ban plastic bags and straws, we can ban ATF.”

She felt her three emails “received little interest,” she said.

“It is my understanding that Norwalk has at least three artificial turf field projects in various stages of development,” Lauricella wrote. “The most immediate is the Broad River Complex, followed by the Norwalk High School and South Norwalk Community Schools. Other existing artificial turf fields will be due for replacement. The known dangers, both physical injury, environmental impact and health concerns have been well-documented for many years.  Recently, the addition of PFAS contamination found in polluted AT runoff adds another reason to press the pause button.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently investigated Veterans Stadium astroturf for a possible connection to the three-times-higher-than-average brain cancer rate among former Phillies baseball players. Tests showed the turf contained 16 different types of PFAS.

“This past June, the Environmental Protection Agency issued health advisories that said these chemicals are much more hazardous to human health than scientists had originally thought,” Shanahan said at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting. “They’re probably much more dangerous, even at levels of thousands of times lower than what was previously believed.”

Council member Diana Révolus (D-District B) said she’d been “doing continuous research” and was “just a little bit concerned.”

“There’s several things that I think we do that we want to do better for our community, but causing harm to for the long haul. And I’m a big fan of the long haul of Norwalk, and thinking of ourselves when it comes to housing, our water and a more generational look,” Révolus said.

Council President Greg Burnett (D-At Large) mentioned Lauricella and said the Council is “taking it extremely serious.” He invited Norwalk Recreation and Parks Director Robert Stowers to share his thoughts.

Stowers said the $28,499 purchase would go to maintaining the turf fields Norwalk has spent millions on. No one was being asked to vote on another field and his department is working toward the informational session Lauricella has been requesting, “a special meeting where we can hear both sides, and maybe even the middle side, of the argument.”

Recreation and Parks is working with consultants, he said. “We do know that there are solutions to disposal, that they’re working on zero disposal waste. And we’ll be getting a report on that.”

Stowers said he wants to vacuum up the crumb rubber on the existing fields and “refill it with a substance that is not as controversial.” Throwing away the turf wouldn’t be responsible.

“We don’t know, right now, whether or not the outcome’s gonna be to keep doing synthetic fields,” Stowers said. “There’s a lot of other economic reasons, there’s capacity issues, there’s play. There’s also an argument where grass fields actually contribute as much injuries, or more, than synthetic fields do. So there’s other sides of the argument that we hear. Tonight we’re talking about maintaining millions of dollars that we’ve invested.”

Recreation and Parks Committee Chairwoman Darlene Young (D-District B) agreed, saying the groomer needed to be bought. But, “We really need to have some sort of balanced conversation about what a what our fields will look like in the city of Norwalk to accommodate all of the programs, you know, all the folks who want to use our fields. We don’t want to turn anyone away. But we also have to be mindful of the carcinogens, or things that could possibly happen. I don’t think that we’ve heard any real hard truth facts on either side. And I could be wrong.”

Shanahan had told her PFAs are in the turf’s grass blades, so it’s not just the crumb rubber, she said.

Council member Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) said the PFAs are the biggest concern, particularly at “the Broad River location, which is near a watercourse.” She too wanted information.

Voting against the expense were Heidi Alterman (D-District D), David Heuvelman (D-District A), Révolus and Shanahan. It passed 8-4-0.


7 responses to “PFAs add to Norwalk Council’s concern about artificial turf fields”

  1. Johnny cardamone

    I never liked artificial turf! As I said, previous follow the science because it’s expensive to be healthy! So what’s wrong with grass? God made it!

  2. Diane M Keefe

    I agree with Council member Shanahan we should not build anymore astroturf.

    When I drive by West Rocks school’s new artificial turf field I feel like I’m living in Stepford Wives world where it’s beautiful on the surface but toxic underneath. Plastics create an environmental dystopia. We need to continue maintaining natural sports fields without toxic pesticides, not build artificial turf.
    We saw in the super bowl how slippery the surface is. Let’s not be penny wise and pound foolish.
    Diane Keefe

  3. Diane Lauricella

    Thank you NON for lifting up this issue.

    Just wanted to clarify for your readers that I sent the Artificial Turf fields (ATF) emails requesting action to the Mayor, select staff, and Council leadership.

    This is not a new concern. The emails include some of the previous requests for action dating back as far as 2014.

    I am very happy that several members of the present Council have voiced their concern, but action steps would reflect the sense of urgency this challenge requires.

    This is an important topic that we can resolve together if handled holistically and with neutral experts that can allow our City to make more informed choices.

  4. Tysen Canevari

    This council really has too much time on their hands. We are really going to think about not buying a groomer for our millions of dollars worth of turf fields because Diane Lauricella raises her hand and says it is just awful for everyone and everything. There are turf fields all over the USA being used for recreation and sport. Has anyone died of cancer yet in Norwalk because they played on the field at Norwalk or Mcmahon? Cigarettes and alcohol kill people daily but they are still allowed to be sold in Norwalk. Where are the conservation saviors there to save lives? What about the raw sewage pouring into the sound from the Smith St plant because our sewage treatment plant cant handle it all? Yet our council worries about backpack blowers and banning turf fields because Diane thinks they are bad! She must have a lot of juice in this town. I say the mayor is awful every day but somehow he makes $160,000 a year on us plus a pension and always has no comment! “Check with my chief of staff” he says! Only in good ol Norwalk

  5. Audrey Cozzarin

    Tysen, thank God for Diane and Lisa and a smart group on the CC–without the health of the Earth, we have nothing.

    Do a simple Google search and you’ll find the professional sports field industry yielding towards natural turf and many, many sources that bring forward the hazards to children and adults from PFAs and other toxic chemicals used in the manufacture of artificial turf. The Netherlands has mountains of discarded astroturf they can’t get rid of. I would argue that this is a serious topic, as it affects our drinking water and overall environmental health.

    Re leaf blowers, they not only pollute (if gas-powered), but blast insects and small animals (whether gas- or electric-powered) which injure and kill. I don’t think that is tolerable just to have a pretty lawn.

    LAWNS: We need to rethink how we live as a species. Maintaining lawns is not sustainable. It is not trivial. These are lifestyle choices that we now see as a collective health detriment.

  6. Nora King

    I respect Lisa. But as a mother of two kids who play sports … turf fields are what is needed. I am so tired of older people making decision for our kids. Turf fields are perfectly healthy and guess what our kids need fields that stand up to our weather conditions. You know what Lisa and many other council members need to focus on is the mess we have with East Norwalk development and the apartments that are destroying our city. She also needs to focus on why her party is allowing poor and horrible BOE candidates. Her political party is destroying our schools.

  7. Tysen b Canevari

    @Audrey. I think we should go back to living like Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. If you want quiet from blowers move to a town with 4 acre zoning. In Norwalk we have postage stamp lots. Let’s not maintain our lawns? Ok that will go well with the tick population. Let’s kill people to save some bugs. You didn’t tell me why we don’t ban alcohol and cigarettes in Norwalk. They kill! If we buy battery operated equipment can we charge them at your place? Will you sleep well with the lithium ion batteries in your garage? Better install sprinklers in your place to help when they blow up. You are a small minority anyway but sad our council waste time with less pressing issues in Norwalk.

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