By Kathryn Eident, Globe Correspondent
Responding to concerns that the town wants to test its new artificial fields for toxins, Board of Selectmen chair James Healy said Tuesday night that the fields are safe and that tests would be conducted to help maintenance crews monitor the fields as they age.
“Currently there is no scientific evidence that there is any health problems associated with artificial turf,” Healy said, at a regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen. “This was studied for over four years, and there were over 30 meetings where things were fully discussed and vetted.”
The Globe raised questions about an artificial field at Concord Carlisle in January, prompting concerns in several suburban communities.
Healy pointed specifically to a Needham Times online posting dated February 6 that said members of the Board of Health voiced concerns about the fields at a Finance Committee meeting last week.
When questioned about a proposal for $3,600 to conduct a groundwater and soil test on the three fields, Board of Health Chairman Peter Connolly said, “There are enough people who would swear on a stack of Internet articles that this is God’s toxic waste,” according to the article.
Tuesday night Healy insisted that the polyethylene and rubber fields pose no hazard to humans, unlike fields made out of nylon, which have been found to contain lead.
“When the $3,600 for the groundwater baseline testing was put in, people came to the conclusion, ‘Oh—if they’re doing testing, something must be wrong,’” Healy said. “We’re crossing our ‘I’s’ and dotting our ‘T’s.”
The town installed polyethylene and crumb rubber fields at Memorial and DeFazio parks last year, for a cost of $7 million dollars, said Patty Carey, director of the Park and Recreation Department.
The polyethylene forms the “grass” while the rubber crumbs, made from recycled tires, forms a cushion and holds the stalks in place. The materials are more durable than natural grass, and require less maintenance throughout the playing season, she said.
Student-athletes used the new field at Memorial Park last fall, and DeFazio will open for use this spring.
“When you constantly use them, it’s difficult to keep a grass layer on the fields,” Carey said. “After quite a bit of discussion it seemed appropriate with a limited amount of space to do artificial turf.”
Needham is not the only community to select artificial turf over natural grass, she said. Neighboring towns like Wayland and Weston have artificial fields, and Cambridge has the oldest artificial field. The New England Patriots even play on artificial turf, made by the same company that produced Needham’s fields, she said.
Athletes do need to take precaution not to become overheated on the fields in the summer months, Carey said. Artificial fields are known to be absorb sunlight and become few degrees warmer at foot level than natural fields.
“You might feel it down at your feet,” she said. “But if you’re hot by your face, you’re probably feeling the humidity in the air.”
As for those concerned with possible infections from cuts and abrasions during a game, athletes need to use the same First Aid precautions they would use with any injury, she said.
The Board of Selectmen will continue to push for funds to conduct the baseline tests, and will make materials about the fields available to the public, Healy said.
“I understand the concern, but it’s been tested,” he said. “The goal is that everyone is comfortable with the fields, just as we would be with any building.”