Souhegan nears goal for turf installation

AMHERST – Last spring an anonymous donor of­fered the community $500,000 to install artifi­cial turf at Souhegan High School’s football stadium, contingent on raising the balance of the nearly $1 million cost by Dec. 31.

Now it looks like the town is well on its way to raising the more than $400,000 needed.

At a Aug. 6 public fo­rum at the high school, Brian Hall, fundraising committee chairman, said that about 75 percent of the $418,000 needed has been pledged so far, and the rest should be raised over the next two or three months, primarily through the sale of bricks.

"We want to make sure we take advantage of this very generous gift," said Travis Warren, of the Sta­dium Project Committee.

Amherst and Mont Ver­non, which are part of the Souhegan School District, have been struggling in re­cent years to find enough field space. The new turf will allow the football field to have much broad­er use, Warren said, not only for football, but also for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey and for base­ball and softball practice. It will also allow for prac­tice sessions earlier in the spring and later into the fall.

This is not the artifi­cial turf from the 1980s, he said, and it offers a flat surface with no mud or divots and it has been proven safe.

The forum addressed health concerns, with committee member George Bower, whose background is in occupa­tional and environmental chemical exposure, say­ing exposure to toxic sub­stances, for players and officials, is no different than what "you or I expe­rience every day" from the chemicals in ordinary objects, including the seats in the school theater where the forum was held.

He explained the com­position of turf – artificial grass infilled with tiny crumbs made from vehi­cle tires – and the routes of possible chemical ex­posure – inhalation, in­gestion and dermal – and the chemicals of concern, including lead, zinc and selenium.

"More than 75 indepen­dent, credible research studies" from groups like the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commis­sion and the federal En­vironmental Protection Agency, "have found no adverse health effects," Bower said. Exposure to fine particles can be con­trolled by regular washing of the field, and worries can be eased by monitor­ing the material and tak­ing samples for testing to a local laboratory, he said.

Bower said he has more concerns about the chemi­cals used in growing grass.

"We think the natural environment is benign. That’s not necessarily true," he said.

Artificial turf has an expected life of 10 or 12 years, and Pim Grondstra, of the Stadium Project Committee, said the plan is to have rental fees from outside sports organiza­tions go into a replace­ment fund.

There were about 75 people in the Souhegan theater for the forum, which included a sports trainer from Bedford and a representative from a turf manufacturing com­pany.

At one point the audi­ence applauded the do­nor, at the suggestion of a man who said he did not know whether the anony­mous person, said to be the father of a Souhegan alumnus and athlete, was in the audience.

Only one person spoke out against the plan, say­ing artificial turf is not as safe as a grass field and is hot in the summer. But most of people raised their hands when mod­erator Shannon Chandley asked how many support­ed the plans.

Warren said New Jer­sey and other states have spent a lot of money re­searching turf and decid­ed it is safe.

A representative of the Sprinturf company ac­knowledged that during three or four weeks in the summer the field will be fairly hot, but during the rest of the year, it will be "soft, warm and comfort­able."

"There’s no question it’s warmer, but it will quickly cool off," he said, and to­day’s turf is about 20 de­grees cooler than turf made five or six years ago.

Eric Gelinas, a Bedford School District athletic trainer, said he has seen more traumatic injuries on grass fields than on turf.

A NBC news report last October sparked concern about artificial turf’s pos­sible link to cancers, and the Synthetic Turf Coun­cil responded saying that after 60 studies over 22 years, "the preponder­ance of evidence shows no negative health effects as­sociated with crumb rub­ber in synthetic turf."

According to the coun­cil, more than 11,000 syn­thetic turf sports fields are in use throughout the United States, and in 2013 between 1,200 and 1,300 fields were installed in North American schools, colleges, parks and pro­fessional sports stadi­ums.