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“Cancel plans to install artificial turf” – environmental justice coalition urges Malden elected officials, citing health hazards of PFAS and heat, cost, exclusion of stakeholders and city code

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  On April 28, a coalition of regional environmental justice and conservation organizations echoed local concerns, urging the City of Malden to “cancel its plans to install artificial turf” at Roosevelt Park and to instead “establish a revised design to install natural grass and properly incorporate neighbor’s input” in a letter addressed to Malden’s Mayor and City Councillors. In solidarity with the Friends of Roosevelt Park, Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE) and six other environmental organizations voiced concerns about health hazards of PFAS chemicals and unsafe heat, along with cost, the injustice of the exclusion of key stakeholders and the contradiction of the city’s own code on prohibiting impervious surfaces in open space.

  Citing well known health effects of PFAS – “forever chemicals linked to reproductive issues, increased cancer risk, weakened immune systems and high risk of obesity,” known to “hinder child development and growth,” found in the plastic of artificial turf carpet – ACE’s letter pointed out that the plan “would be especially concerning because of the park’s use by young sports leagues and proximity to the Salemwood Elementary School.”

  Another health concern is adding heat: “Cities like Malden should be taking steps to meet the demands of a warming climate, but the installation of an artificial turf field at Roosevelt Park would contribute to the urban heat island effect,” added the letter. This effect increases “heat related illness and mortality.” Since the plastic surface can heat to unsafe temperatures of 140-170 F in the sun, and anything above 120 F could burn skin, “artificial turf would create a hazard for anyone wanting to use the park on a warm, sunny day – a hazard that could be avoided.”

  Other concerns include costs, exclusion of key stakeholders from the planning of the park, and Malden’s own code against installing impervious surfaces in public open spaces. The long-term costs of artificial turf do not include the disposal and replacement of the shock pad and carpet every eight to 10 years. The Park’s adjacent neighbors and Salemwood Elementary School community members were not invited to help develop the plan but will have to bear the greatest burden of health and environmental consequences. Finally, “According to the city’s Open Space Plan, Roosevelt Park is permanently protected Open Space, and the City’s Code requires that “All Open Space shall be pervious.” Both the Synthetic Turf Council and the EPA define artificial turf as impervious, because “the rainwater it collects is most often redirected into the rain sewer system instead of being allowed to percolate into the soil.”

  Regional environmental justice and conservation organizations who signed on to the letter in solidarity with the Friends of Roosevelt Park are ACE, the Conservation Law Foundation, Beyond Plastics Greater Boston, the Friends of the Malden River, the Mystic River Watershed Association, Safe Healthy Playing Fields Massachusetts, and Wicked Cool Mystic. These organizations fight for clean air, land and water, along with equity, justice, health and well-being, in communities in Massachusetts and New England. They asked Malden officials to halt “current plans for the park and reevaluate with meaningful input from the surrounding community.”

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