Some Williamstown Residents Oppose Mt. Greylock Artificial Turf Plan

Jul 29, 2019

Some residents of Berkshire County plan to argue Tuesday against the installation of an artificial turf. 

Tuesday night, the Mt. Greylock School Committee will hold a forum at the public high school to hear comments on a plan to install an artificial turf field.

“The high school after years of an ancient building finally got the town funding and state funding to move forward with the new building project," said Anne O’Connor. She has been a member of the Williamstown select board for two terms.

“And that building project is essentially complete now but what could not be funded by the state was anything for the outdoor facilities, as well as for housing of the superintendent, the district office,” explained O'Connor.

Williams College stepped in with a $5 million donation to the school to be used however Mt. Greylock sees fit. O’Connor says the school committee created two subcommittees, one to deal with each of the glaring issues Mt. Greylock faces.

“The playing fields subcommittee, they call themselves the Phase II Capital Gift subcommittee, moved forward rapidly over the course of this year, really starting in January when they had a few new members join the committee, townspeople joined the committee, and helped connect them with a vision of an artificial turf field," said the select board member. "They brought in a consultant very rapidly.”

All of this was moving too quickly for O’Connor and other town residents.

“My point of view is just that in their haste they were overlooking some serious side effects of artificial turf, some negative aspects, and I also feel that they didn’t really seriously consider using organic natural grass fields as an option,” she told WAMC.

The Mt. Greylock School Committee chair could not be reached for comment, and the vice chair declined to comment.

O’Connor isn’t alone. Fellow townspeople intend to speak out against the artificial turf plan at the forum.

“My huge objections are that the infill, the crumb rubber infill, contains neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, and carcinogens," said Williamstown resident Bridget Spann. “From a safety perspective, turf fields are on average 40 degrees hotter than regular fields, so recently I was with my son at a soccer tournament and we were there on a 75 to 80 degree day and measured the grass temperature within the range of 80 to 90 degrees, whereas the nearby artificial turf field registered 110 degrees on the sidelines to 135 degrees near the center of the field.”

Like O’Connor, she wants the school committee to consider an organic approach.

“So for example, a complaint at Mt. Greylock has been that the fields are too wet in the spring," Spann told WAMC. "But with organic management through aeration, overseeding, soil testing, and the application of specific soil amendments and organic fertilizers the organic matter of a field can increase, and for every one percent increase in organic matter a playing field can handle an additional 21,000 gallon of water.”

Another Williamstowner – Dr. Nicholas Wright, a retired medical epidemiologist – says his research into artificial turf indicates that it could pose a risk to high school athletes.

“The scuttlebutt is that burns, cuts, tears are more common on artificial surfaces than they are on natural grass surfaces, but I’ve not seen any documentation on actual numbers and rates,” said Wright.

But it isn’t all scuttlebutt. He cited a pair of articles that indicate a real threat.

“In one, anterior cruciate ligament injuries come out about 40 percent higher, in the other both posterior cruciate ligament and anterior cruciate ligament injuries are higher while playing on artificial turf, but the anterior cruciate ligament injury rates are not statistically significantly higher comparing the artificial surfaces to the natural surfaces," Wright told WAMC. "So it does seem all together that there is an increased risk of serious knee injury from artificial turf.”

Spann brought up a quote a neighboring farmer shared with her on the subject: if cows can't eat it, kids shouldn't play on it.

The public forum begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mount Greylock Regional High School.