Concerns over artificial turf: Parents and safety advocates continue to resist adding synthetic fields

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. -- Athletes from pros to the pint-sized variety are coming across a new kind of artificial turf when they play on synthetic fields, raising concerns among some as school districts continue to embrace their use.

Artificial turf has drawn criticism from both parents and people concerned about long term health effects of kids playing contact sports.

At April’s Montgomery County Public Schools board meeting the question of adding an artificial field at Walt Whitman High School was a hot topic.
“It’s the only viable option on the table to bring new fields to these schools,” argued one parent.

David Weaver is a parent who supports replacing grass at Whitman High with artificial turf because of how often the fields are needed for athletes.

Weaver believes by giving the field the green light after three years of research it will pave the way for artificial turf at Einstein High School and Julius West Middle School in the near future.

“You have to have a balance between some grass fields and some turf fields,” said Weaver. “It's a win-win for the county; it's a win for the schools, it's a win for the student athletes.”

But there are others who believe the risks tied to synthetic fields—even new ones with zeolite infill instead of rubber—are too big a risk for the school district to take.

“There is no peer reviewed research on this material for infill,” said Susan Loftus, a physical education teacher in Montgomery County Public Schools. “We're putting kids in harm’s way.”

Montgomery County Public Schools leaders insist there is no harm and adds that the material is already being used by thousands of kids in Montgomery County who play on the new fields at the Maryland Sports Complex.

“Regarding safety: We are confident in the health regulatory frame work in place in the U.S. that has approved the zeolite product,” said a school district representative before the school board voted almost unanimously in April to move forward with the project. “We've heard from many community members excited precisely because of their experience at the Maryland Sports Complex.”