The fact of the matter is ...

The Board of Aldermen is considering a $5 million Project to install three multipurpose synthetic turf fields at Newton South High School, smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood. For video clips of the Community Preservation Committee meetings of June 21 (2006) raising some hairy issues with this project, go here.
According to an engineering study by Brewster W. Fuller (1977), the area is wetlands, subject to differential settling, with a geology and hydrology incompatible with construction. The area is the habitat of some 91 plants species, 71 bird species and six animals. 
The Project calls for $2.3 million in taxpayer-funded Community Preservation Fund, $1.8 million in bonded indebtedness by the City, and a pledge of an annual contribution of about $30,000 by the City toward the one-time replacement cost of the surface (rug) 10 years down the road, if not sooner due to overuse, inadequate maintenance and other factors.
The rug costs $500,000 to replace. The annual cost of maintaining each field is about $10 to $15,000, as the field, when properly maintained, requires combing and fluffing, sweeping, and treatment for removal/killing of bacteria, weeds and seeds, and minimizing static electricity (with the help of gallons of fabric softener). The surface requires periodical application of sand and rubber crumb, and replacement or patchwork of the prematurely frayed or damaged areas. To protect them, the fields will be fenced in and limited for athletic use. No dogs, no chewing gum, and no orange and watermelon allowed.     

hundreds of pounds of rubber crumb and rubber crumb dust are loose in the turf
The turf blades and underlying mesh is made of nylon, polyethylene or polypropylene. The loose rubber crumb, which is placed on the field in order to prop up the blades is granulated recycled rubber. The recycled rubber contains aluminium, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, sulfur and zinc, in addition to lead that may have been absorbed into the rubber while in use as tire. Over time, the crumb turns into rubber dust. According to horticulturist Linda Chalker-Scott, “There is no question that toxic substances leach from rubber [mulch] as it degrades, contaminating the soil, landscape plants and associated aquatic systems.” The Myth of Rubberized Landscapes ( The rubber mulch is also the base of synthetic turf and so the cautionary tale about the danger of recycled rubber applies to synthetic turf as well, according to an e-mail from her.


Recently, the New England Patriots installed artificial turf at Gillette Stadium in order to combat the wear and tear caused to the natural grass by years of football, soccer and outdoor concerts. The game against the Bears on November 26, 2006, took place under ideal conditions, with no rain to muddy the works. Below are three clips from that game that we have copied shamelessly off TV highlights. As you watch the clips, please note the impact dust that the players leave in their wake. That dust is a combination of sand and rubber crumb. While it may not be harmful to tall, big and grown up players, one should pause and consider the ramification of youngsters getting exposed to this stuff, either breathing it,  ingesting it or otherwise coming into contact with it.



The clips above also showed the ease with which players can intentionally slide on the turf. That quality of the turf is directly linked to the rug burn (scraping of skin) in youngsters, a source of pain and potential infection. There is no truth to the industry claim that its turf is soft and does not cause rug burn. One can get rug burn on any kind of fibrous surface. If there were a surface that did not cause rug burn it probably would not be suitable for playing fields.


The storm drains in this area have "No Dumping, Drains to River" markings for a self-evident reason

The synthetic fields act like “heat islands.” They retain and radiate heat at considerably higher temperatures than natural grass. Frank Williams, Synthetic Surface Heat Studies, Brigham Young University (24 June 2002) ( The surface of a well-maintained synthetic turf field requires watering in the hot months.

Naturally, the fields at Newton South should be fixed and the City does need more playable surfaces for an overactive sports community. Do we have to have it in the form of what the state’s preeminent naturalist, Peter Alden, has called a “sterile eco-desert rug”? In this size? At this cost? In this place? Please, say no.


A Blast from the Past: The Fuller Report

Managing Editor's Note 

Set forth is the digest of a 6-page report by Brewster W. Fuller, a state-registered professional engineer and landscape architect. The report was made in 1977 with respect to geology, hydrology and other factors affecting the the proposed construction of an open air stadium in the Newton South High School neighborhood. Brought to light by a South Newton resident, Susan Allen, the Aldermanic Committee on Community Preservation recently included a copy of the report in its supporting documents/agenda (Docket # 297-06) of the meeting on October 24, 2006. Many of the issues raised by the report then confront us today. Among other things, the report predicted accurately the woe that since visited the school's track and field area.

Particulars of the Report

  Engineer Brewster W. Fuller

  Whitman & Howard, Inc.

  45 William Street, Wellesley, Mass. 02161

  Tel 617-237-5000

 [Presently, Mr. Brewster may be reached in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts at (508) 378-1504] 
Date of Report: October 18, 1977

Subject of Report: [Proposed site development for an open-air stadium in the area located near the Newton South High School, Meadowbrook Junior High School and Oak Hill Elementary School and Playground  per plans on file at the Department of Engineering captioned “Preliminary Plans 10/6/77”]

Findings of the Report

The peat underneath the wetlands area extends to a depth of as much as 35 feet.

Flooding occurs on properties along Brandeis Road, making the use of sump pumps in basements a requirement. 

Plants, animals and birds observed in the ecosystem of the wetlands area include 91 plant species, 71 bird species, and 6 animals.

Recommendation of the Report

The project "not to be permitted to proceed for the following reasons:"

"1. Due to the inherent compressibility of peat, any filling placed on top of the existing fill will undoubtedly result in differential settling which could cause failure in the proposed track pavement surface. This settlement could also cause pipe failures in either the drainage system or the irrigation system or both."

2. The required grading may restrict the amount of acreage available for fields.

"3. Any surcharging of the existing filled land adjacent to the wetland will cause displacement of the water table resulting in additional water being forced upon the abutting homes which are now subjected to periodic flooding."

Managing Editor's Note: The conclusion in #3 above predated the recent renovation and construction at Newton South High School. That endeavor has further exacerbated the geology/hydrology of the area. Please go here to see/hear Mr. Dickson's comments on the matter under the heading "On Geological and Hydrological Woes." The proposed synthetic turf project would in all likelihood claim as its other victims the Newton South High School buildings too. 

4. Under severe conditions the proposed drainage system would be surcharged and could cause additional flooding of the wetland and abutting properties.

5. No provision for sight and sound barriers.

6. Car traffic and parking woes.

"7. The impact on the birds and animals in particular, who as habitants of the wetland are adjusted to their environment, could be seriously affected by the proposed project. The affect on the plant families in the wetland might not be quite so overwhelming; however, an increase of pollution in the wetlands which could result from careless refuse disposal might alter the ecosystem enough to adversely affect the plant life."

8.  Increase in air pollution due to concentration of vehicles.

"9. Although an Environmental Impact Statement has not to my knowledge been made, and in fact may not be required, it is my opinion that if such a statement were prepared the undesirable and adverse environmental aspects of the proposed project would far outweigh the anticipated benefits."

End of document _/


Learn the Facts!

To be funded with Community Preservation Act funds or not, any decision to proceed with this project should be based on the results of sound, impartial and independent Hydrological and Geological Surveys, Environmental Impact Statements, and Health and Safety Risk Assessment Studies (especially with respect to children under 14 years of age). To learn more about the benefits of natural grass see below.


Natural Grass vs. Synthetic Turf

of e-letter from Editor of
Turf News, The Lawn Institute,
East Dundee, Illinois, addressed to Newton's Aldermanic finance and community preservation committee members

[date: on or about November 9, 2006]

Dear Board of Aldermen's finance and community preservation committees considering the returfing of the Newton South High School with synthetic turf,
One of your colleagues expressed great concern about the stewardship of your community?s significant short- and long-term financial, environmental and health well being.  In response to his request that our organization share with all of you the science-based facts about the differences in synthetic turf and natural grass, we are including the attached documents and research studies for your consideration.  In addition, you might want to contact one of the turfgrass sod producers in your area and allow these turfgrass industry professionals to speak for themselves on the real cost of a natural field installation and annual maintenance.  I would also like to suggest contacting your state university?s Extension Turfgrass Specialists who are highly credentialed research scientists willing to share the facts all community decision-makers should rely on.
The attached documents include a peer-reviewed study about the benefits of natural grass (none of which are offered by synthetic coverings), a NFL players opinion survey of playing surfaces, a research scientist's surface temperature comparison study and separate chart, an European discussion of the topic, and a photo of crumb rubber shift after a heavy rain in Marco Island, FL and the reporter's rough draft of her article that was eventually published there.  I've also attached a PDF of Chapter III from the "WATER RIGHT--Conserving Our Water, Preserving Our Environment" which documents the significant environmental, health and safety effects in China when turfgrass and all other greenery was removed--you can access the entire publication at the following web address:
Our biggest concern with communities, schools and others contemplating the installation of artificial turf is that all too often they do not do their homework, relying on sales representatives instead of contacting their state university research scientists and other true professionals before making a decision with such far reaching financial, environmental and human health impact.  There would be far less artificial turf being installed if the decision-makers would focus on science and fact-based information by meeting with their state turf extension specialists and local turfgrass producers to discuss the true cost efficiency of selecting and properly maintaining natural turfgrass.
A properly constructed field begins below the surface and requires follow-up care, maintenance and annual (or more frequently as needed) renovation by a turfgrass professional with agronomy training?not just a maintenance person.  What we're hearing from the professional turf producers, and are in the process of documenting, is that professionally installed and maintained natural turfgrass fields can provide far greater durability and frequency-of-use while still retaining their aesthetics and playability, as well as significant environmental, health, safety benefits that many people are unaware of, all more economical and healthy.
To assure each of you of the value of reviewing the attached documents, I have listed the science-based benefits you'll find within those documents.  
Benefits of Natural Grass 
* Generates Oxygen
* Cools the Air
* Soil Erosion Control
* Water Filter/Purifier
* Rain Water Entrapment for Ground Recharge
* Air Pollution Control
* Glare Reduction
* Temperature Reduction
* Dust Prevention               
* Dissipates Solar Heat
* Fire Prevention
* Environmental Protection
* Low-Cost Surface
* Safety Cushion
* Increased Property Value
* All Natural
* Healthy for Humans
For the financial, environmental and health well being of your community, as decision makers you are challenged to make a wise decision regarding whether to install synthetic turf or natural grass.  Please do not hesitate to contact industry scientists and other experts before making a decision that could have far reaching impact on your community.
Bob O'Quinn
Communications Manager & Turf News Editor
The Lawn Institute
2 East Main St.
East Dundee, IL 60067
Tel: 800/647-5555 or 847/649-5555
Fax: 847-649-5678