Nantucket: The Next Tire Dump? SynTurf.org, Newton, Mass. December 18, 2007. For now, the open space playing fields on Nantucket Island are still natural grass. However, if the spread of artificial turf nationwide and its mindless proliferation across Massachusetts are any indication, it would not be long before this island of luxury and lore will succumb to the presence on the landscape of a few heat islands, and acres of ground covered in plastic grass and shredded tire crumb. If the Department of Parks and Recreation were to have its way, soon there will be two such installations at the island’s 81 Milestone Road. The address consists of 31.3 acres and under the current plans it will host two natural grass fields, two fake grass fields, facilities and parking.
The simmering public discourse about the development project, its cost and artificial turf came to the fore in an article in the November 28th edition of The Nantucket Independent, the island’s locally-owned newspaper.
The project will cost about $4.37 million and it is intended to be financed by Nantucket’s Community Preservation Fund monies, but subject to voter approval at the April 2008 Town Meeting. This year, Park & Recreation submitted a capital request for $3.6 million for consideration at April's Town Meeting, and is expected to receive an additional $500,000 from the Community Preservation Fund.
Community Preservation Fund is a special fund established by Nantucket pursuant to Massachusetts Community Preservation Act (chapter 44B of Mass. General Laws) following the adoption of section 3-7 of the Act by Nantucket voters on April 3, 2001. The Fund consists primarily of a 3% surcharge on property taxes and a matching amount from the state’s Community Preservation Trust Fund (together, “CPA money”). The CPA money is supposed to be spent on acquisition of open space, community (affordable) housing and preservation of historic resources.
There is considerable doubt as to the lawfulness of spending CPA money for artificial turf. The Act prohibits spending of CPA monies for rehabilitation, remodeling, extraordinary repairs, restoration and other improvements intended to extend the life or use of land for recreational use, if said land was neither acquired or created originally with CPA monies. Further, CPA monies cannot be spent on maintenance of land for recreational use. In September 2007 the Middlesex Superior Court ruled that CPA monies could not be used for “creation” of recreational opportunities to land for recreational use that was neither acquired nor created originally with CPA monies. In at least one advisory opinion, the Mass. department of Revenue has stated for the record that CPA monies cannot be used for artificial turf. A lawsuit by Wayland residents that specifically challenges CPA monies for turf is pending before Middlesex Superior Court. A third lawsuit that addresses similar issues has been filed in Duke County Superior Court in November 2007 by a group of Martha’s Vineyard taxpayers.
The public debate regarding this project also concerns the actual and potential health and environmental consequences of artificial turf. The worry is primarily about the toxicity of substances from crumb rubber – shredded used tires, made into granules that prop up the plastic polygrass blades. There is a rapidly and urgently mounting body of evidence to suggest that greater research is needed in order to evaluate the health and environmental risks associated with substances that are released from crumb rubber – specifically by way of inhalation, ingestion and contact in humans, and by leaching into soil and water and off-gassing.
Of monumental importance to Nantucket residents is the potential of contamination of soil and water resources by crumb rubber leachate. On December 12, 2007, The Nantucket Independent published an opinion piece by Kurt Tramposch, a public health consultant from Wayland, Mass. Tramposch and other Wayland residents acted to produce a state-brokered agreement whereby the town is obligated to monitor the discharge and leachates from the artificial turf field at Wayland High School to ensure that the soil and water resources are not contaminated as the result of runoffs and seepage of substances from the turf field. This landmark solution was due in part to the location of the turf field near or in areas under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Tramposch brief called attention to a typical football or soccer field as containing between 20,000 and 40,000 pulverized auto and truck tires. “This ‘crumb’ has a chemical identity which is identical to the chemistry of the original tire, “ Tramposch wrote. One study identified 112 chemical compounds in its multiple-rubber leachate tests, but chose only sixteen of those to evaluate for health risks. Another study has summarized 46 studies in the scientific literature: from the 49 chemicals released from tire crumbs, seven were carcinogenic.
The Tramposch brief pointed out that Nantucket receives annually 42 inches of precipitation. So, for example, the case of an 80,000 square-foot field that receives 3.5 feet of rainfall a year, 6.4 acre-feet of water would filter through the tire crumb rubber, or approximately two-million-gallons a year. “When temperatures rise in the summer months, heated water leaches metals from the tire crumb,” Tramposch wrote, so “until in situ studies are conducted to get an accurate picture of the contents of the rubber leachate, the environmental or health impacts remain unknown.” Further, he cautioned, “there is the added water quality risk from typical synthetic field maintenance practices - chemicals to clean, disinfect, brighten, fluff, paint, and repair - all filtering into the aquifer below.
The Precautionary Principle, according to Tramposch, “suggests that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the proposed action.” “The potential for harm to the athletes and environment of Nantucket from the introduction of hundreds of tons of used tires needs careful deliberation by all the island's residents,” he wrote. “And as the Fairfield Commission [] determined after over 20 hours of testimony,” Tramposch concluded, “a safe and prudent alternative to artificial turf exists - namely grass.”
 In Nantucket, voters adopted all three exemptions that the Act provides for the CPA surcharge. They are (1) property owned and occupied as a domicile by a person who would qualify for low income housing or low or moderate income senior housing ; (2) class three, commercial, and class four, industrial, properties as defined in section 2A of chapter 59 of Mass. General Laws where there are classified tax rates; or (3) $100,000 of the value of each taxable parcel of residential real property.
 Seideman and others v. City of Newton, Middlesex Superior Court, Civ. No. 60-1868. A copy of the court’s decision and judgment is available here.
 Cosloy and others v. Town of Wayland and others, Middlesex Superior Court, Civ. No. 06-4070.
 For more information on crumb rubber and other aspects of turf risks, see www.synturf.org, or www.ehhi.org.