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Plastic and Rubber at Concord’s Town Meeting

By Bob Andrews

Concord is an acknowledged leader in sustainable municipal decision-making, and this spring’s Town Meeting Warrant contains articles that are outstanding examples of this. Article 35, for example, will, if adopted, authorize the Town Manager to enter into long term leases for both rooftop and ground-mounted solar panels at municipal facilities. The article reflects a goal of the Town and Light Plant to increase the amount of energy the Town purchases from renewable sources.

In contrast with this forward-looking sustainability initiative, Article 30 contains a section that allows the Community Preservation Committee to appropriate $670,000 to cover infrastructure costs for an artificial turf playing field. The State Community Preservation Act does not allow funding of artificial turf itself due to health and environmental concerns. If Article 30 as a whole is approved at Town Meeting, the plan for a new privately funded artificial turf playing field at the Regional High School will proceed despite these concerns. Plastic and rubber will replace Concord’s good earth and natural grass.

The first of Concord’s sustainability principles is that municipal decisions should “reduce dependence upon fossil fuels, underground metals, and minerals.” The plastic and rubber that are contained in artificial turf are manufactured with the burning of fossil fuels- not just once, but every time the field is resurfaced. Add in the fossil fuels required to transport more than 120 tons of turf to the town for a single field. Sticking with natural grass surfaces is a realistic option and would be consistent with the first sustainability principle.

The second principle calls upon the town to reduce dependence upon synthetic chemicals and other manufactured substances.” If we create an artificial turf field at CCRHS we will, in fact, be adding more than 120 tons of unnecessary synthetic materials to the earth. Synthetic turf fields appears to be “the rage” around the country; so multiply Concord’s tonnage enormously and consider the total impact of these fields upon our collective carbon footprints! This is hardly an example of Concord acting as a model for sustainable community!

The third sustainability principle is “to reduce encroachment upon nature.” It seems pretty clear that when we lay out an artificial turf field in place of a natural grass field we are encroaching upon nature big time. The unsustainable character of this is underlined by recent studies that testify to the important role of natural earth and plant life in sequestering carbon dioxide in the soil. The more natural earth we maintain the less greenhouse gas we are putting into our already hugely overloaded atmosphere. We mess with nature’s ecosystems at great risk to future generations and ourselves.

The fourth principle asks that, in new municipal initiatives, we are careful to “meet human needs fairly and efficiently.” The most obvious human need involved in having these playing fields is providing recreational opportunities for our children. Many kids and their parents have a big investment in that; but some scientists believe that the health and safety of the players may be at risk. The turf, it is said, contains hazardous substances such as mercury and lead. Since all of our kids matter, why take unfair risks that may cause one or more of our kids to develop cancer or some other adverse health effect?

Come to the March Sustainable Concord Coffee on Tuesday, March 17, 7:30-9 AM at the Harvey Wheeler Community Center. There will be information and discussion about both the artificial turf playing field issue and a citizen petition to limit the sale of plastic bags. There will be plenty of time to raise questions, comment on what is presented, and enjoy good coffee and local goodies.

Bob Andrews is a Concord resident and a member of the ConcordCAN! Steering Group.