Lessons to learn from past turf vote in Saranac Lake

To the editor:

Since 2006, the last time Saranac Lake Central Schools proposed replacing a grass playing field with an artificial surface, much has changed in the nature versus plastic debate.

From the standpoint of athletes’ wellbeing, a growing consensus among professional athletic organizations and public health researchers favors natural over artificial playing fields:

¯ A survey of the NFL Players’ Association showed 92% of professional football players preferring grass;

¯ When World Cup soccer comes to North America in 2026, FIFA is requiring natural grass at every venue;

¯ Citing exposure to toxic substances and increased heat exposure on synthetic surfaces, a November 2023 position statement from Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center recommends natural ground cover whenever possible. Specifically addressing exposure to the PFAS class of “forever” chemical compounds, the statement asserts, “To allow the installation of PFAS-containing surfaces would be extremely short-sighted as further restrictions and regulations on these chemicals are likely to come.”

On the environment, we now know far more about the harmful components of the synthetic grass and infill of artificial fields than we did 18 years ago. As these compounds degrade over time through exposure to the elements, toxins–many water-soluble–leech into the groundwater and nearby streams and water bodies.

Moreover, on a global scale, the last decade has produced the 10 hottest years on record. In this context, replacing one-and-a-half acres of natural ground with a petroleum-derived alternative for any non-essential purpose seems irresponsible.

Saranac Lake Central Schools has a new board of education since the last time artificial turf came before district voters. The current board, in this year’s proposition, has switched the field designated for the transplant to the infield of the track in front of the high school. The new field would flush runoff unfiltered into the high school pond, a wetlands feeding Lower Saranac Lake. Up to this point, the school board has taken care to protect this natural, educational resource by limiting the application of herbicides on the current grass surface.

The board argues that no taxes will be raised for the project. This only holds if you fail to consider how the district will replenish the 70% drawdown of its capital reserve fund. That may involve taxes. In emphasizing the percentage of students who will benefit from the move to plastic, the board includes teams that won’t use the carpeted field. The bottom line for Saranac Lake School District voters is that when compared to a well-maintained, properly-drained and lighted natural alternative, any advantages of artificial turf are marginal.

Children born to Saranac Lake families the last year school district voters were asked to approve an artificial turf proposition will graduate this year. It is the hope of older generations that each new generation will learn valuable lessons before they set out into the world. Let us hope that the lessons we send our seniors away with this spring will not include abandoning our commitment to environmental stewardship both locally and a globally.

Mark Wilson

Saranac Lake


NFLPA players’ survey: https://www.foxsports.com/stories/nfl/nflpa-head-says-92-percent-of-players-prefer-playing-on-grass

FIFA 2026 World Cup grass policy: https://www.sportico.com/leagues/soccer/2023/fifa-enlists-experts-2026-fifa-world-turf-boost-1234742574/

Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center Position Statement: https://mountsinaiexposomics.org/position-statement-on-the-use-of-artificial-turf-surfaces/#_ftn1

Groundwater contamination:https://theintercept.com/2019/10/08/pfas-chemicals-artificial-turf-soccer/

Global temperature records:https://www.climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/2023-was-warmest-year-modern-temperature-record


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