The Woodbridge Plan and Zoning Commission earlier this month approved the application by the Amity Regional School District to move forward with construction of a synthetic field stadium and track. The board attached a condition that the company installing the artificial turf, called Field Turf, guarantee that the products they use not contain a group of chemicals known as PFAS or PFOS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). The chemicals are considered highly toxic and the state last fall created the Connecticut Interagency Task Force, which developed an action plan to address these chemicals.
The infill for the all-weather field is made of crumb rubber, ground up car tires that have been used in fields all over the nation. The tires, critics say, leach chemicals as they break down. Players may also inhale dust and ingest particles, which some studies have found to contribute to cancer risks and other health issues.
The project has been rejected in the district before. But at a referendum in December 2019, it passed in Orange 539-279 and in Bethany 165-146, even though Woodbridge voters rejected it, 211 to 321.
The town had received some 250 letters from Woodbridge residents, requesting the town place a moratorium on the project or choose a different product, such as cork. Board chairman Robert Klee read the letters into the record, given that Town Hall had not reopened to the public and the meeting was held online.
They also received some 30 or so letters supporting the project – many of them from Orange and Bethany residents – saying the project had passed at referendum in December and that vote stands. Zoning Commissioner Andrew Skolnick agreed with their assessment. “I am hesitant to second guess those democratic processes,” he said.
Commissioner Jeff Kennedy agreed, saying the district had gone through the democratic process, but added that some residents had raised legitimate safety concerns.
Klee also pointed out that according to the zoning regs, the board has to take into account the health and safety of the population.
A group of Woodbridge residents, including neighbors of the school, had brought up the issue of PFAS, which had gotten a lot of attention in the state just a few months earlier, when the chemicals leached into the Farmington River due to firefighting foam that was used at Bradley Airport.
However, Andrew Dyjak, regional vice president of FieldTurf, assured the board that numerous studies had been performed and peer reviewed, finding “no causal link” between their product and any negative health outcome. He assured the commissioners that as opposed to many artificial turf manufacturers, FieldTurf does not use PFAS chemicals as a lubricant. Their lubricant is water-based and evaporates, he said.
He said what they are installing here is the “cool play” system, which covers the crumb rubber with a layer of antimicrobial non-abrasive cork granules, which prevent the rubber from heating up. The rubber blades sit in a layer of stone and sand silica, which filter the rainwater runoff from these fields. As a result, the water is cleaner than the runoff from chemically treated fields, he said.
Amity Supt. Dr. Jennifer Byars said in a phone conversation last week that improvements have started on Field 3, which they hope to have finished by the beginning of fall sports. As for the stadium; however, they are holding off until they know whether the zoning decision will be appealed.
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent