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Vol. LXIII, No. 22
 
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
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Commission Votes “Not to Oppose” Use of Synthetic Turf on Local Fields

Ellen Gilbert

After a protracted, contentious discussion, the Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC) voted not to oppose the installation of synthetic turf (syn turf) playing fields in Princeton Parks. The vote was five to one, with PEC Chair Wendy Kaczerski the dissenting vote.

Afterward, Ms. Kaczerski emphasized the importance of the language used in the PEC’s position on the use of synthetic turf:

“The Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC) previously expressed concerns to Princeton’s Joint Recreation Department about whether synthetic turf playing fields might have potentially harmful effects on either the environment or on the health of the students who will use it. After reviewing the research and other information compiled by the Recreation Department to address those concerns, the PEC accepts what the research indicates — that high quality, lead-free and well maintained synthetic turf poses no known measurable or immediate threat to date to human health or the environment. Nevertheless, the PEC requests that the Recreation Department practice the highest level of due diligence in continuing to address the PEC’s concerns in regard to the purchase, installation and maintenance of synthetic turf surfaces. In addition, the PEC requests that the Recreation Department monitor conditions that may affect student health, such as excessive temperatures associated with synthetic turf. The PEC also requests that the Health Commission review the Recreation Department’s research and that it join the Recreation Department as it continues to follow the research on synthetic turf; and to raise any concerns it may have at any time about synthetic turf’s impact on human health.” 

Prior to the vote, the PEC heard a lengthy presentation from ecologist Jane C. Harrison, representing a neighborhood group opposed to the installation of “syn turf” in Smoyer Park. Ms. Harrison detailed what she and the group believe are the very considerable health dangers of using this recycled material.

A hefty bound volume of studies to the contrary, compiled by the Joint Recreation Department under Executive Director Jack Robert’s leadership, has been available for some time. Mr. Roberts, who was present at the Wednesday meeting, observed that the two parties were really not that far apart. “In a perfect world, I don’t know if syn turf would be an answer for us. But we have looked at so many possibilities, and one soccer field and one baseball field is not everything,” he commented. A Mercer County grant would pay for the installation of synthetic turf on the fields.

The Rec Department is currently operating “three to five fields short,” according to Mr. Roberts. “The schools don’t have enough athletic fields to handle their demand, and they’re using Rec fields.” He also pointed out that there is “no way to create natural fields in the limited amount of time available.” He noted that the Rec Department had indicated its willingness to “get together in a small group” with the residents opposing synthetic turf to “have a conversation about where to go with it.” Instead, he observed, they had leap-frogged over that invitation by bringing the issue to both the Township Committee and the PEC.

It will be up to the Township Committee to take formal action on the synthetic turf question after the appropriate bodies have weighed in on it.

The evening’s heated tone was set early on when PEC member Ann Neumann said that Ms. Kaczerski had acted “in a very partisan way” by forwarding memos to various municipal leaders while excluding the PEC. “I think that you have used your position as chair to engineer a result that you hope to achieve,” Ms. Neumann said, asking that Ms. Kaczerski step down as chair during the syn turf discussion. “I strongly resent your implication that I am doing anything wrong,” responded Ms. Kaczerski. The group eventually voted, five to two, in favor of Ms. Kaczerski remaining as chair during the discussion.

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