Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Turf fields: Medway health board recommends signs, regulations

MEDWAY - After months of debate over the safety of artificial turf fields, the Board of Health voted Monday to recommend placing minimal-language signs on the three fields and to work with the parks department and school district to draft a policy or regulation.
The debate comes months after an NBC News report about the research of Amy Griffin, a soccer coach at the University of Washington who has compiled a list of soccer players – who played on turf – that have developed cancer.
Since then, the state Department of Health, citing several recent studies in other states, said that adverse health effects are not likely.
“Although exhaustive research has not been completed, the available studies have shown that although (artificial turf field) components contain chemicals in the material itself, exposure opportunities at levels measured do not suggest that health effects are likely,” the document reads.
But opponents of artificial turf in town also cite the ability for artificial turf fields to reach extreme temperature during hot and humid weather.
Tracy Stewart, who has been among the most vocal in the debate, sent Health Agent Stephanie Bacon documents recording surface temperatures of the town’s three turf fields, and in each case, the temperature on the turf field reached well over 130 degrees while the air temperature was in the low 80s.
However, Board of Health Chairman Michael Heavey said the recordings may not be entirely accurate, as the devise used was an infrared thermometer, which does not measure air temperature.
“It’s more about what the ambient temperature around (the turf) is,” he said.
Parks Commissioner Paul Mahoney said temperatures on the running track and tennis courts also become very hot in the summer.
“Without doing proper testing I think it’s irresponsible to continually hammer that,” he said, adding that he does not have a “problem with a sign” simply stating that the fields can become hot.
Athletic Director Rob Pearl said Hanlon Field, the main football field at the high school, has been there for more than 10 years, and a death on the field was attributed to a student’s heart condition.
Pearl added that coaches and trainers are given a handbook of safety guidelines regarding concussion, player safety and heat acclimation.
“All coaches have to follow and look at what the rules and guidelines are,” he said.
Resident Allan White, a youth soccer coach, said he’s been to Board of Selectmen, School Committee and Board of Health meetings and the “community is not working together” on the issue.
“Someone needs to get past that,” he said. “It’s about what is right for the kids and parents of Medway.”
Bacon said she will contact Interim Superintendent Armand Pires to work on drafting a regulation or policy and to set up a joint meeting between the Board of Health, the Parks Commission and the School Committee.
Zachary Comeau can be reached at 508-634-7556 and Follow him on Twitter @ZComeau_MDN.