Artificial city

Aging artificial turf pitches can pose a risk of head injuries

“What I really want is for the kids to be safe,” said Johanna Hynes, whose three children played lacrosse on Charlestown High School’s aging multipurpose field, used for football, lacrosse and football.

City records show Boston’s popular artificial turf pitch has repeatedly failed shock absorption tests over the past three years, putting thousands of children who have played there at high risk serious head injuries.

It’s just one of dozens of aging artificial turf pitches in Boston and across the state and country that haven’t been regularly monitored and tested, despite warnings from experts.

Testing from 2019 to April this year reveals sections of the Charlestown field exceeded the threshold for safety established by the American Society for Testing and Materials, an international society that develops standards.

Records dating back to September 2019 show the testing company warned the city that the pitch should be repaired or replaced as soon as possible, noting that the greatly diminished shock absorption “is rated as unsafe and potentially head injuries. fatalities can occur.”

Hynes started researching turf earlier this year because she wanted to learn more about potential environmental issues. She pressed city leaders for records and received documents revealing the failure of shock absorption tests. Hynes was floored.

“Is it safe for children if they fall?” she wondered.

The Charlestown field, the oldest artificial turf field in the city, was installed in 2007 and is seven years past its warranty.

After Hynes started raising questions on the pitch, City paid to fix the lack of cushioning at five locations that had failed the test. City records from May’s testing showed the field passed, but the testing company noted the field was in “poor condition.”

Unimpressed with the city’s response, Hynes and other parents donated $1,500 and hired an independent contractor in July to retest the land. This test indicated that the field again failed shock absorption standards.

The city has sent its contractor to retake the problem sites, and Boston Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ryan Woods told the Globe that his department plans to renovate the entire grounds, with work beginning in November. The Charlestown project is still being tendered, so the final cost is yet to be determined. But experts said such renovations cost between $720,000 and $1 million. In the meantime, he said, the city will monitor him regularly and correct any hard spots.

But what about the other synthetic turf pitches in the city? Their shock absorption levels — and the safety of thousands more across the state and country — are an open question. The Boston Department of Parks and Recreation maintains 22 artificial turf pitches, 9 of which were installed no later than 2013. The city had no maintenance contracts for the facilities until 2018. A department spokesperson said all pitches now receive six maintenance visits per year that include grooming and inflating the padding, but they are not routinely tested for sufficient shock absorption.

“If I had any failing results, if there was an issue where someone could be hurt, I want that rectified immediately,” Woods said.

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs interscholastic play on state grounds, has “no regulations or requirements for playing fields or surfaces,” according to the association. Neither does the National Federation of State High School Associations, which writes the rules for most American high school sports and activities. A federation spokesman told the Globe, “testing of any playing surface is left to local levels”.

There are about 16,000 synthetic turf fields in North America, and about 1,200 to 1,500 fields are installed each year, according to the Synthetic Turf Council, an industry trade association.

Shock absorption testing uses a measurement known as “g-max”, where the g stands for a unit of gravity. A terrain with a higher g-max level absorbs less force and places more impact on the athlete during a fall, while a surface with a lower g-max absorbs more force, which reduces the impact on the athlete. impact on the athlete.

Independent standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials state that g-max readings should not exceed 200 at any field test point. The Synthetic Turf Council says that proper turf maintenance should keep fields below this level for the life of the field.

But the council suggests, for safety reasons, that g-max levels for artificial fields remain below 165.

Boston city records show the vast majority of pitches tested on Charlestown High School’s multi-purpose field since 2019 have exceeded 165, with about half tested near or over 200.

In comparison, shock absorption on natural grass pitches is around 80g-max, according to industry experts. Grass fields heavily compacted from use and drought can reach 115 or 120, they said.

As synthetic turf ages, the padding, known as infill and usually made up of sand and rubber granules, becomes more compact and also migrates off the pitch, depleting its shock absorption capacity, Jeffrey said. Gentile, operations manager of Firefly Sports Testing, a new Hampshire company that tests fields across the country.

A 2015 review of head injuries and synthetic turf by the Concussion Legacy Foundation concluded, “Although one in five sports concussions in high school are caused by surface impacts, and one in four concussions in soccer and youth soccer, we don’t we have no national conversation about technology under an athlete’s feet”.

While numerous studies have examined the link between artificial turf and the risk of ankle, knee and hip injuries, research on head injuries from artificial turf remains limited.

Woods, the city’s parks commissioner, said community groups often push for artificial fields because they can withstand more wear and tear. They can be used right after a rain storm, unlike natural grass, which often needs a day to dry out to prevent damage. He said climate change, which is expected to bring more cycles of rain and drought, will likely increase the popularity of artificial grass, which does not need to be watered, fertilized or mowed.

“In a densely populated city, like Boston, we’re so limited by the amount of open space we have, especially with recreational facilities, such as large fields,” Woods said. “We often have waiting lists.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who was elected on a platform of environmental justice and green initiatives, has “a preference for grass playing surfaces whenever possible,” her office said in a statement. communicated. The mayor, however, has not issued any guidelines on the use of artificial turf in Boston.

Some field-testing experts say they have tried to convince major sporting authorities, such as the National Federation of State High School Associations, to adopt standards required for shock absorption on artificial turf pitches, similar to the rules used in Europe.

“Unfortunately in the United States,” said Kieran O’Donnell, managing director of Sports Labs, an international testing company, “it’s a race to the bottom when it comes to quality.”

Kay Lazar can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.