[No. 5] Wellesley, Mass.: Promises are made to be broken? Back in 2008-2009 nobody promised the abutters of the grass fields abutting Sprague Elementary School a rose garden – The city used unlawfully thousands of dollars of the Community Preservation Fund in order to rehabilitate recreational fields that were already recreational fields and that were not acquired or created originally with Community Preservation Funds, a requirement that they be so under the Community Preservation Act in order to get CPA funding for rehabilitation. Two artificial turf fields were installed after much fuss. The fuss is back again and this time it smells like a bigger rat. At issue is the going back on the promise that was contained in Sprague Fields Task Force report that underlay the letter and the spirit of the warrant that authorized the installation of the fields. We are talking about “no lights, no scoreboards.”
Here is a documentary reminder of what was recorded at the time and maybe someone in Wellesley would hit the deaf-and-dumb decision-makers upside the head as a reminder that this promise ought to be honored. Were it not for the promise, maybe the field project would have not received favorable consideration by some of the abutters who were instrumental – albeit misguided - in getting the measure passed.
Exhibit 1. Samantha Fields, “Town Meeting plays ball with Sprague Field,” in theTownsman, April 3, 2008, available at http://www.wcpponline.org/town%20meeting%20plays%20ball%20with%20sprague%20field.html : “A year after narrowly voting down the installation of artificial turf at Sprague in a hotly contested debate, Town Meeting voted Tuesday night in support of the new Sprague Field Master Plan… A natural grass field will border the Sprague School, and there will be no permanent lights, scoreboards or stands installed on site.”
(Old/New Business) “Mr. Mills provided an update on the activities of the Sprague Field Task Force, including the development of recommendations to the School Committee and the funding approach for the proposed work. The Task Force is recommending elements of a Master Plan for the Sprague Field Complex, no varsity football games be played at Sprague Field, and no permanent fencing, scoreboards or stands, in order to preserve the open nature of the field.”
Warrant Item No. 20, beginning on page 74 (at page 81): “ The [Sprague Field] Task Force reviewed all concerns and requests voiced at a public hearing in June and agreed to make the following recommendations: • Allow space for an elementary school playground, funded by the Sprague PTO, between Sprague School and Field 1; keep Field 1 as a natural grass field which includes a new softball field. • Fields 2 and 3 should be synthetic and use thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) as infill in lieu of the “tire crumb” infill previously proposed. The Task Force chose TPE because it is manufactured from raw materials, contains no heavy metals, is recyclable, reusable, and not a disposal risk. A variety of TPE composites are used in healthcare packaging, children’s toys and food applications. It is inert, non-digestible, and small quantities are harmless if consumed. • The site should include no permanent seating, scoreboards or fences, nor should it provide for lighting.
[No. 04] Wellesley Brief – update: More light shed on TPE infill.Alkylphenols are used as intermediate chemicals in the manufacture of other chemicals, including thermoplastic elastomers and are found also in tires. The crumb rubber infill on artificial turf fields are mostly crumb rubber made from used tires or are thermoplastic elastomere, still a rubber product. According to Francesco Michelangeli and others, alkylphenols are pollutants and act as endocrine disruptors, having xenoestrogenic activity. Alkylphenols cause abnormal elevations of intracellular [Ca2+] within TM4 Sertoli cells (cells involved in sperm maturation) depolarise their mitochondria and induce cell death in these cells, in an alkyl chain size-dependent manner.
According to Kim Mahoney, a Wellesley resident, the MSDS for the TPE infill that us used at Sprague Fields in Wellesley, Mass. states that TPE is composed of polyolefin elastomer blends.
Is it possible then for the alkylphenols in the blend to leach out or to separate otherwise from the crumb pellets? Or from the plastic blades. In an e-mail dated May 18, the reader posed the question to Michelangeli and he responded “I am sorry I [know] very little about TPE plastics, to advise. However, in general in some plastics the phenols are covalently linked into polymer and therefore unlikely to leached out into the environment and cause problems. Some are blended into the plastic and can therefore leach out.” To the extent that the plastic fibers too may contain alkylphenols, we may be looking at a whole new issue with the potential harm posed by artificial turf fields in terms of bio-availability of endocrine disruptors from artificial turf fields.
On May 12, 2009 the Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project hosted a forum intended to enlighten the public on the topic and effects of endocrine disruptors as derived from environmental toxins.
Within [WCPP Chairperson] Sara Frost Azzam’s opening statements, assertions were made that the WCPP is responsible for the installation of “safer” synthetic fields at the Sprague Fields suggesting that thermoplastic elastomer infill synthetic fields are “safer” than crumb rubber infill synthetic fields which, in and of itself, simultaneously sidelines the million-dollar question: Are TPE infill fields safe? (The argument that TPE fields are “safer” than crumb rubber fields is designed to encourage the installation of synthetic fields and is reminiscent of the “better barrier” argument that was also designed to encourage the installation of synthetic turf and discourage natural turf.) Ms. Azzam introduced Maricel Maffini, PhD (Tufts University School of Medicine), who described the disruptive effects environmental toxins, such as endocrine disruptors, have upon our endocrine systems (glands) which correlates with the onset of cancer later in life as exampled by diethylstilbestrol, a synthetic estrogen prescribed to women from 1938-1971 to prevent miscarriages. Dr. Maffini’s discussion included examination of the effects of endocrine disruptors such as dioxin, DDT, DES and bisphenol-A (BPA ) and emphasized that there were no low doses of BPA given to laboratory animals that did not produce alterations to their endocrine systems. According to a Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition Newsletter distributed by Dr. Maffini, the endocrine system consists of glands that produce hormones which modulate specific body functions (metabolism, growth, reproduction) which when altered by endocrine disruptors (an exogenous substance or mixture that alters the function(s) of the endocrine system) result in serious pathologies like diabetes, testicular cancer, breast cancer or obesity.
I attended the forum with the purpose of addressing concerns I have regarding the TPE infill synthetic fields which were installed at the Sprague Fields and the effects endocrine disruptors existing (?) within those fields might have on those exposed to the TPE infill as it is my understanding that TPE contains alkylphenols, which are described as known, weak endocrine disruptors. Following Dr. Maffini’s instructive phase of her presentation, she solicited questions from the listeners. At this time, I questioned Dr. Maffini regarding her knowledge of alkyl phenols, to which she replied she knew “nothing.” I had e-mailed Dr. Maffini prior to her coming to Wellesley, in hopes that she would be able to provide some guidance on this matter. Since the WCPP endorsed the installation of TPE synthetic fields at the Sprague Fields and since the WCPP made a point of exposing the dangers of endocrine disruptors, it would follow that the WCPP would/should take on the responsibility of ensuring/guaranteeing the public that its endorsement of a product (TPE) certifies that the product does not contain alkylphenols or any other endocrine disruptors.
[No. 03] Wellesley, Mass.: Endocrine disruptors, what about them?SynTurf.org, Newton, Mass. May 15, 2009. On May 12, 2009 the Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project (WCPP) hosted a forum on the effects of endocrine disruptors as derived from environmental toxins. According to a Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, the endocrine system consists of glands that produce hormones that modulate specific body functions such as metabolism, growth, and reproduction which, when altered by endocrine disruptors -- an exogenous substance or mixture that alters the function(s) of the endocrine system -- result in serious pathologies like diabetes, testicular cancer, breast cancer and obesity.
The event caught our eye because its sponsor wan none other than WCPP, which hadendorsed the installation of thermoplastic elastomer infill (TPE) with the synthetic fields at the Sprague Fields. There is reason to believe that TPE contains alkyl-phenols or like substances, which are described as known, weak endocrine disruptors.
Aware that the TPE issue may come up, the organizers went an extra step to nip in the bud any discussion of the matter. The chairwoman of WCPP, Sara Frost Azzam, opned her remarks with an “impromptu” assertion thatWCPP was responsible for the installation of “safer ” synthetic fields at the Sprague Fields, suggesting that TPE is “safer” than crumb rubber infill. The main presenter was equally not given to discussing PTE: Maricel Maffini described the disruptive effects of environmental toxins, such as endocrine disruptors, including Dioxin, DDT, DES, and Bisphenol-A and emphasized that there were no low doses of BPA given to laboratory animals that did not produce alterations to their endocrine systems. Yet, when a member of the audience asked if she knew about alkyl-phenols, Dr. Maffini said she knew “nothing.”
Meanwhile, children of very young age, drift from SpragueElementary school onto the turf fields regularly during recess, oblivious to the idea that the turf field was located one field away from the school so younger children would not be exposed to the turf field.
[No. 02] Wellesley Brief Update: The selling out continues! SynTurf.org, Newton. January 18, 2008.
On a previous posting on this page (see below, ItemNo. 01) SynTurf.org reported on the proceedings of the Sprague Fields Task Force, which on January 8, 2008, held a public hearing on their unanimous decision to recommend to the School Committee andtownspeople one of two options for the renovation of the Sprague fields: Option A and Option B.
In either Option the two fields next to Sprague Elementary School (Field 1 and 2) were to be natural grass. In Option A, the artificial turf field (Field 3), a football field, was to locate southwest of the second one of the two natural grass fields. At the public hearing (Jan. 8) two residents spoke against the location of the football field, as it being too close to their property line. Next night on Wednesday, January 9, 2008, behind closed doors, the taskforce met and changed the location of the football field to Field 2.
The change in effect cancelled out Option B, which was to be about Fields 1 & 2 next to Sprague to remain natural grass. Whatever concerns may have prompted the taskforce to locate the artificial turf field in Option A one hundred yards away from the school will now be all of 50 yards away, with its infill potentially washing up/migrating onto the natural grass field next to the school. The chnage also alters the cost structure of Option B in a way that if the town were to opt for the less expensive one (Option B), then at least the town will have an artificial turf field that the proponents are dying to have.
The "new" plan constitutes a material change over the old plan. In all fairness, if not for legal reasons, the taskforce and the town administration owe the public another public hearing, so the folks who are affected by this change now get a chance to be heard.
While it is understandable that the School Committee would want to get this project before the Town Meeting in March, there is no reason why this hurry-up offense should trample the rights of the residents.
 For a copy of the layout of the fields (January 8 version) click here.
 For a copy of the layout of the fields (January 9 version) click here.
[No. 01] THE WELLESLEY BRIEF: The anatomy of a sellout.
By Guive Mirfendereski SynTurf.org, Newton, Mass. January 13, 2008. Tuesday evening, January 8, 2008, Wellesley, Mass. came one step closer to installing two artificial turf fields near Sprague Elementary School. At the unveiling of the Sprague Fields Master Plan there was only a smattering of concern about the project. “This is a compromise proposal,” according to Chris Guiffre the chairman of the Sprague Filed Task Force. Guiffre is also on the School Committee and, as he told SynTurf.org, he favors artificial turf.
A few dozen residents attended the meeting. Among the “concerns” raised by a handful of them one had to do with the proposed artificial turf football field being too close to abutters’ property line. Another one or two complaints were concerned with parking issues. There were also concerns about keeping the nearby habitat classroom/nature walk. One person questioned whether artificial turf fields were truly critical to the future of sports in Wellesley. Only one member of the public voiced a principled objection to artificial turf for reasons of health and environmental impact; she came to the microphone twice.
Reading the mood of the meeting and comments of the members of the taskforce, there is every expectation that the taskforce would have voted on Wednesday evening, January 9, 2008, to approve the more ambitious of the two options before it. Option A has a price tag of $3.6 million but will give the town five fields, of which two will be artificial turf. The more modest Option B, a red herring, has a price tag of $1 million and calls only for renovation of the two natural grass fields that are immediately next to the elementary school. The taskforce’s recommendation next will go for approval to the full School Committee and then go before a Town Meeting in March for voter approval.
Background. This latest chapter in the saga of the Sprague Fields project has been a lackluster affair when it is compared with the School Committee proceedings last February and the Town Meeting that followed it. In the evening of February 6, 2007, the Wellesley school committee moved quickly and approved the installation of two artificial turf fields at the Sprague Elementary School. The few and very brief comments by the citizens who opposed the plan made no difference to the majority who were bent to hurry the committee along at the urging of school committee member Suzy Littlefield. Subsequently, the project became the subject of Article 22 of the Warrant that the Town Meeting considered on March 26-27, 2007.
The tide began to turn in favor of the opponents of the Sprague project when on March 5, 2007, the Selectmen voted to institute user fees on youth athletic programs as a way to pay for the proposed turf fields in the vent that the public voted down the funding of the fields with debt. In voting against user fees, the lone Selectmen, David Himmelberger, questioned the safety of the turf plan as a whole. “I have grave reservations about this vote and about this project … I don’t think the Sprague student community should be placed at risk to gain more fields … this product has never been evaluated for use by elementary school kids. There are latex allergy issues and asthma issues that haven’t been addressed,” he was reported as saying. By the time of the Town Meeting a critical number of citizens had garnered siffcient attention and literature to educate the town meeting members on the potential health and evironmental risks associated with artifcial turf. So when Article 22 came up for a vote, it was defeated. The defeat did not deter the proponents of the proejct to call for a reconsideration of the vote. The recosideration came a week later at the Town Meeting on April 10-11, 2007 and took up five hours of debate in the span of two nights. On the April 11 the majority of the members at the meeting voted for the resolution to fund the turf fields, but the measure fell short of the needed two-thirds majority to pass.
While the vote in Wellesley was about the funding of the turf project, one could notdismiss or underestimate the persuasiveness of the health and safety issues that may have played a role in the outcome of the vote. During the debate that prceded the vote, the members heard from Tom Brown, a lawyer, who noted that “no study had ever been done on the long-term health effects of FieldTurf on small children.” Christine Olaksen said she “worried about younger children possibly ingesting the loose crumb rubber granules that compose the turf’s infill.”Larry Kaplan, a practicing physician, argued that the risks were too great for the town to install the turf without more careful discussion: “The science is not definite, but the potential threat to our children’s health is,” he said. “The onus should be on the manufacturer to prove that their product is safe, rather than on the consumer.”What Kaplan was enunciating was the cutting edge doctrine of “precautionary principle” in health and environmental fields. Sprague Field Task Force.After the setback in April 2007, the School Committee set up the Sprague Fields Task Force with the mission“to recommend possible plans for the Sprague Field remediation to the School Committee for proposal to the 2008 Annual Town Meeting.” To ensure its success, the 16-person taskforce had one representative from the board of selectmen, board of health, public works, recreation commission, directorate of athletics, natural resources commission, school department (Sprague administrator), and Wellesley cancer prevention project, and 2 representatives from the school committee. The group also included two abutters (2), two Sprague School parents and representatives from youth athletic programs such as youth soccer, youth lacrosse, and little league. Judging from the previous proceedings, the taskforce’s membership was stacked in favor of artificial turf from the get-go, as many of the members/institutions represented on the taskforce had been aligned already with the turf and publicly had said so in the preceding stages of the process. In a cynic’s view, the taskforce would go through the motions of making the process look even and studied, legitimate. The outcome would never be in doubt – there would be artificial turf fields at Sprague. The minutes of the taskforce’s meeting on December 5, 2007, reveals the extent to which the process helped advance the fiction of an“open mind” as it laboriously poured over a huge amount of reference material, most recent of which warn of potential human and environmental risks associated with turf. According to the minutes of that meeting, the Selectman Greg Mills dismissed the relevance of injury reports associated with turf as being at professional or collegiate level and therefore not applicable to K-12 athletics. He also parroted the turf industry’s claim that turf injury studies are often about the old generation turf. Conveniently, the taskforce turned a blind eye to the mounting body of evidence from players themselves that points to risks associated with playing on the new generation of artificial turf fields. The task of evaluating the impact of artificial turf on the environment and human health was relegated specifically to Sprague Filed Task Force Health and Environmental Sub-Group, whose four-person membership consisted of two abutters, a little league parent and a physician representing the Wellesley cancer prevention project . At the December 5 meeting, the Sub-Group presented its Final Report to the taskforce. It consisted of a review and dismissal of the emerging research and literature that has questioned the safety, health and environmental risks associated with artificial turf, in particular its crumb rubber component. Two seminal works on this subject (summer 2007) have moved a number of communities, groups and public officials to either take a pass at artificial turf fields or seek a moratorium on their installation until the health and environmental risks can be better assessed. But not this Sub-Group! The Sub-Group’s recommendation represented a rather peculiar balance of interests. It concluded, “although there is no conclusive evidence that crumb rubber synthetic turf fields present health or environmental issues, there are enough components of crumb rubber infill that could cause health or environmental issues to justify consideration of other synthetic turf options.” Yet, instead of outright rejecting the proposed turf fields, the Sub-Group recommended that if Wellesley were to choose to install artificial turf fields it should look to fields that do not use loose crumb rubber infill. By implication, therefore, the Sub-Group called for an exploration of alternative infill products in order to minimize risk to the health of field users and the environment. As if by this suggestion one no longer would have to worry about heat island effect, hot surfaces, watering, chemical treatments, staph-prevention application, turf burn, foot-fixation, zinc, nitrosamines, latex, particulates, silica, carbon footprint and disposal of used carpets. The disappointment with the Sub-Group’s work goes beyond the results that it reached. One must question the sincerity and resident expertise of the Sub-Group in dealing with some cutting-edge protocols and procedures to assess health and environmental risks posed by leachates from artificial turf fields. Equally wanting may have been the willingness to question the bias of the reports and tests that the Sub-Group may have relied on to find “no conclusive evidence” of harm despite the existence of rebuttal evidence and simple adherence to the Precautionary Principle. Zinc is a good example. The Sub-Group was completely indifferent to the results of a study on the potential and actual harm caused by zinc leachates from artificial turf fields, even though the research document was listed on Sub-Group’s bibliography. One among many factors, zinc was a critical concern for a community in Connecticut that ultimately said “no” to turf. Ultimately none of this mattered. The taskforce voted unanimously on December 5, 2007, to approve the conceptual Sprague Fields Master Plan,  and on December 12, 2007, it recommended its plan to the School Committee.In shaping its recommendation, the taskforce had sought to maximize the use of the fields and address the State-required remediation of the former dumpsite. “This master plan answers that charge in concept and represents the first step in the process of improving the site. The plan calls for a total of five multi-purpose fields which can be used for field hockey, lacrosse, soccer and football, two full-sized baseball fields and a softball field, and provides space for additional playground structures for the Sprague Elementary School. This plan will allow for the required remediation under Fields 1 and 2, and is a major step forward in helping the Town of Wellesley address the growing demand for athletic playing fields for organized sports at all levels.” The Sub-Group’s treatment of the evidence was in many ways a “Green-wash,” a whitewash and a blackwash. But then the Final Report was what the process intended from the beginning: a masterful political consensus document that ultimately put expediency over principle and completely ignored the teachings of the Precautionary Principle. Alternative Infill.Toward the end of the meeting on December 5, 2007, the taskforce turned to a discussion of investigating alternative turf products, for the purposes of which the Health and Environmental Sub-Group had obtained a list of products from Gale Associates. In February and March 2007 Gale Associates had recommended artificial turf for the Sprague fields. Just prior to the public hearing on Tuesday evening, January 8, 2008, Guiffre said the taskforce had met for two hours with representatives from three artificial turf vendors in order to hear about alternative infill. He told the audience that the alternatives have a price premium in that they can increase the cost of the field by anywhere from 5% to 100%. It is not clear if the minutes of the meeting with vendors will be made available to the public. Many of the alternative products are either costly or not sufficiently widespread in the New England region for the purposes of comparison, not to mention the adverse potential impact of their constituent parts, such as plastics and silica. There is also the reluctance on the part of one field vendor to substitute its infill for legal or commercial reasons. This is similar to a situation where an artificial turf vendor would not install a drainage system so that a municipality could install a natural grass field on top of it. In this market, as far as the vendors of turf fields are concerned, it is one ball of wax, take-it-or-leave-it is the rule of thumb. The industry term for infill granulates (in Europe at least) is “elastomeric granules.” In the realm of infill substitutes to tire crumb (SBR), there is rubber (tire or otherwise) that is coated with PUR or is pigmented (EPDM). There is also TPE, which is short for “thermoplastic elastomer.” The TPE-V variety of this product is a blend of EPDM and a thermoplastic polyolefin that are partially cross-linked. The TPE-S variety is made of a blend of a styrene copolymer and a thermoplastic polyolefin, which are physically cross-linked.
Among the many purveyors of elastomeric products is a Dutch company named Terra Sports Technology BV (TerraSportsTech), whose product Terra XPS is manufactured by DSM Research of Sittard, Netherlands. The product is touted as safe as the DSM-like TPE used in the food industry such as in the new “artificial” wine corks. “Applying Terra XPS in an artificial turf system is absolutely safe for the environment, which is proved by the leaching test.” No doubt as a taunt to the crumb rubber infill, TerraSportsTech states: “the artificial turf industry has a big responsibility to use or apply only materials which contain no hazardous ingredients or, at least, no hazardous materials are leaching during time.Only this way, problems of pollution of ground, ground water of surface water can be avoided.” Another thermoplastic product is offered by Ten Cate Thiolon, another Dutch company. Another product is resin-coated sand infill called FlexSand. It is offered by Fairmount Minerals (www.fairmountminerals.com), an Ohio company, whose beginnings included the ownership and operation of a sand mine in Illinois. Presently, Fairmount Minerals claims to be “the third largest industrial sand producer in the United States with 8 active mining facilities and the second largest commercial Foundry resin-coated sand producer with 3 manufacturing facilities.” As its name implies, FlexSand is a “rubber coated sand for use as an infill material in artificial turf… It consists of a high purity special graded silica sand coated with a proprietary kind of rubber.” Fairmount claims, “FlexSand virtually eliminates dust created by traditional fields.” Whether silica poses a set of its own environmental and health risks is yet to be considered in connection with artificial turf fields. However, a silica manufacturer generally warns against risks of silicosis and other respiratory ailments. The mere defense – there is also sand on the beach – should not be the last word on the possible health risks emanating from the use of silica or sand-based products in artificial turf fields, nor more than the use of crumb rubber should be justified on the seductive suggestion that tires are everywhere. What’s next? No doubt, new products may pose as-yet-unknown risks ranging from the product’s own viability and ecological impact. Whether Wellesley will opt for used tire crumb, the devil that it knows, or goes with cutting-edge technology depends on a variety of factors, which include cost, proven viability and reliable post-installation service. There is a slim chance that in the end artificial turf may not even come to the Sprague fields. First, there is the fiscal temperament of the Town Meeting that might not approve the public funding of a project as exorbitant as this. Then there is the possibility that Community Preservation Act (“CPA”) funding may not be available for the project as a matter of law. Under the Sprague Field Master Plan, the five-field Option A, with its two synthetic turf fields, would require $700,000 in CPA funds (70% of the total cost). Option B (only two natural grass fields) would require about 30-40% of its total 1.2-1.4 million cost to be funded by the CPA (app. $455,000). Under the Massachusetts General Laws, chapter 44B, various opinions of the Department of Revenue and at least one Middlesex Superior Court decision -- CPA money cannot be spent to rehabilitate or renovate or improve fields that the town had not acquired or created originally with CPA money. While the town administration would like to interpret the law to allow it to delve into CPA money, the town may not be allowed to do so by either the vote of an informed Town Meeting or by a legal action that a minimum of ten residents could institute against the town. Conclusion.If there is one essential and important outcome in Wellesley’s unfinished turf saga is that under Option A and Option B no artificial turf field will be located immediately adjacent to the Sprague Elementary School. This was a major concern for many who objected to the plan in February-April 2007. The “compromise” plan may go far to alleviate pet peevish or parochial concerns over turf fields, it is still a set back for the environment which will loose acres of breathing, living and organic fields to sterile stretches of plastic polygrass and crumb rubber and silica, with untold health, environmental and fiscal consequences. It will not be the town of Wellesley alone that will be affected by the environmental impact of artificial turf at Sprague. The waterborne particulates and leachates from this system will eventually wash into the Charles River.
If the Sprague plan moves forward without further ado, one must wonder whether the majority of the people who raised all the fuss in February- April 2007 did not just want to be invited to the table? Or move the boundaries of the project away from their backyards? Could they have used the cause of the environmental and health to mask a personal and selfish? One would hope some who opposed the turf plan at Sprague truly cared about health and the environment and will continue to resist this plan’s artificial turf component.