Halt Cornell University’s Plan to Install Artificial Turfs

Cornell University’s President Pollack, Provost Kotlikoff, and Administration

We, the undersigned, are writing to request that Cornell University immediately halts its plan to install new artificial turf fields as part of the $55 million Meinig Fieldhouse project. We are deeply concerned about the environmental and health implications associated with artificial turf, including plastic pollution, toxicity, increased injury risk, and conflicts with sustainability goals.

Over 85% of Ithacans opposed the installation of artificial turf at Ithaca College in spring 2023, according to a poll in the Ithaca Times. Additionally, the Town of Ithaca Conservation Board recently wrote a letter to the Town of Ithaca Planning Board voicing concerns about Cornell University’s proposed synthetic playing fields. Yet despite these objections, Cornell University has not reconsidered its plans to move ahead with plastic turf.

Watch our webinar held on 4/30/24 for an expert panel discussion here.


Artificial turf has been linked to numerous environmental and public health concerns, including:

1. PLASTIC POLLUTION

Artificial turfs like those proposed by Cornell University shed microplastics, significantly contributing to plastic waste at the end of their life. Plastic pollution occurs throughout artificial turf’s lifecycle, from extraction to disposal, making it a significant climate factor. According to a recent scientific study in Environmental Pollution, artificial turf ranks among the top causes of outdoor microplastic pollution.

Moreover, plastic turfs are nearly impossible to “recycle” at the end of their life, despite claims to the contrary. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently exposed how Pennsylvania became “a dumping ground for discarded artificial turf,” violating state environmental laws.

2. TOXICITY AND PFAS CONTAMINATION

Artificial turfs contain PFAS, notoriously known as “forever chemicals,” which pose an imminent threat to water systems and endanger both human health and ecosystems. Claims to “PFAS-free” turfs are questionable. PFAS are not only present in infill crumbs, but also in blades.

Artificial turf additionally poses environmental justice concerns throughout its lifecycle. Cities like Dalton, Georgia, the “carpet capital of the world,” receive the brunt of this toxic contamination.

3. HEALTH HAZARDS

Athletes using artificial turfs are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals, raising substantial health concerns. The Guardian reports that artificial turf may be linked to the deaths of six Philadelphia Phillies players who developed the rare brain cancer glioblastoma. In February 2024, The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article voicing concerns from parents and coaches about the connection between artificial turf and cancer in student athletes.

4. INCREASED INJURY RISK

Synthetic playing fields are associated with a greater risk of foot and ankle injuries for athletes compared to natural grass. A survey conducted by the NFL Players Association reveals that 92% of NFL players prefer grass over plastic turfs.

5. COST

While artificial turf is often advertised as a cheap and convenient alternative to natural grass turf, a breakdown of expenses from Safe Healthy Playing Fields Inc. reveals that cost savings are often exaggerated. Furthermore, plastic turf must be replaced every 8–10 years and still needs to be regularly cleaned and maintained.

6. CONFLICT WITH SUSTAINABILITY GOALS

The installation of artificial turf conflicts with Cornell’s environmental goals to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2035 and to “lead by example on campus and exercise climate leadership beyond campus.” The use of plastic artificial turf made of fossil fuel is also incompatible with Ithaca’s environmental values and goals.

* * *

In light of these concerns, we urge Cornell University’s Administration to reconsider its plans to install artificial turf. Instead, we implore that the University explore sustainable alternatives such as natural grass, prioritizing the well-being of our environment, student athletes, and community.

We also call upon the Tompkins County Legislature to institute a county-wide ban on the installation of artificial turf, joining dozens of other municipalities and states working on bans and moratoriums. This ban would demonstrate our collective commitment to environmental stewardship and public health, aligning with the county’s sustainability goals and initiatives.

* * *

Watch our webinar held on 4/30/24 for an expert panel discussion here.

The True Costs of Artificial Turf:
Experts Discuss Cornell University’s New “PFAS-Free” Project
April 30, 2024 | 7 p.m. E.T.

Artificial turf is billed as an economical and environmental option by the industry; but is it really?

This webinar held on April 30, 2024 investigates the true costs of artificial turf, focusing on Cornell University’s proposed $55M plan for installing additional synthetic playing fields. Discover the dangers of plastic grass, from toxic chemical exposure to ecological degradation, and explore sustainable alternatives and advocacy strategies.

Our stellar panel of six experts—including scientists, environmentalists, and a former university soccer coach—will analyze the life cycle, environmental justice, and public health impacts of artificial turf. Additionally, an expert will present compelling arguments for transitioning to sustainable alternatives, particularly organic grass management, even for high-impact sports fields.

From coast to coast, communities are facing similar challenges. By opposing Cornell’s artificial turf project, we both support our local community and draw attention to a nationwide movement to ban plastic grass installations.

Moderator: Adriana Sulca, Ithaca College EcoRep President

Introduction: Amina, Cornell University Ph.D. student

Speakers:



SOURCES

Bumbaca, Chris. “‘It’s Not Rocket Science’: NFL Turf Debate Rages On Although 92% of Players Prefer Grass.” USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/super-bowl/2024/02/07/grass-or-turf-nfl-players-overwhelmingly-pick-one-over-the-other/72515239007/.

Butler, Megan. “Panel Asked to Hold Georgia’s ‘Carpet Capital’ Liable for Contaminated Drinking Water.” Courthouse News Service. September 13, 2022. https://www.courthousenews.com/panel-asked-to-hold-georgias-carpet-capital-liable-for-contaminated-drinking-water/.

City of Ithaca. “Sustainable Ithaca.” https://www.cityofithaca.org/421/Sustainable-Ithaca.

Cornell University. “Sustainable Campus.” https://sustainablecampus.cornell.edu/climate-action/climate-action-plan.

Crandall, Brian. “Cornell Shares Details on New $55M Athletics Facility Project.” The Ithaca Voice. December 28, 2023. https://ithacavoice.org/2023/12/cornell-shares-details-on-new-athletic-facility/.

De Haan, William P., Rocío Quintana, César Vilas, Andrés Cózar, Miquel Canals, Oriol Uviedo, and Anna Sanchez-Vidal. “The Dark Side of Artificial Greening: Plastic Turfs as Widespread Pollutants of Aquatic Environments.” Environmental Pollution 334 (2023): 122094. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2023.122094.

Ithaca Times. “Do You Think Ithaca College Should Replace the Grass Field at Butterfield Stadium With Artificial Turf?” June 7, 2023. https://www.ithaca.com/opinion/question_of_the_week/do-you-think-ithaca-college-should-replace-the-grass-field-at-butterfield-stadium-with-artificial/poll_7aff9034-054e-11ee-9b25-579d4c7a178d.html.

Johnson, Carla K. “What Does the Science Say about the Grass vs. Turf Debate in Sports?” Associated Press. October 9, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/nfl-aaron-rodgers-achilles-grass-artificial-turf-79212f5443cd2a0d30fe8c9d981b13c0.

Larker, Barber, and David Gambacorta. “‘Forever Fields’: How Pennsylvania Became a Dumping Ground for Discarded Artificial Turf.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. December 13, 2023. https://www.inquirer.com/news/pennsylvania/artificial-turf-pfas-rematch-pennsylvania-dumping-ground-20231213.html.

Larker, Barber, and David Gambacorta. “‘Risky Play: A Stew of Toxic Chemicals Lurks in Artificial Turf. Some Experts Worry They Could be Linked to Cancer in Young Athletes.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. February 20, 2024. https://www.inquirer.com/news/pennsylvania/artificial-turf-pfas-rematch-pennsylvania-dumping-ground-20231213.html.

Perkins, Tom. “Artificial Turf Potentially Linked to Cancer Deaths of Six Phillies Ball Players.” The Guardian. March 10, 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/mar/10/phillies-ball-players-cancer-artifical-turf?CMP=share_btn_tw.

Persellin, Ketura. “New Studies Show PFAS in Artificial Grass Blades and Backing.” Environmental Working Group. October 29, 2019. https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/new-studies-show-pfas-artificial-grass-blades-and-backing.

Safe Healthy Playing Fields Inc. “Costs: Grass vs. Synthetic Turf.” https://www.safehealthyplayingfields.org/cost-grass-vs-synthetic-turf.

Town of Ithaca Conservation Board. “Cornell University Meinig Fieldhouse Project.” January 31, 2024. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1lWuRUpp5JwnV1ndbapoHgjvRpKQRbj0X/view.

Toxic Use Reduction Institute. “Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Artificial Turf Carpet.” February 2020. https://www.turi.org/var/plain_site/storage/original/application/2af7f525abb175811f54b1dfb8ccc5c8.pdf.

Sponsored by

To: Cornell University’s President Pollack, Provost Kotlikoff, and Administration
From: [Your Name]

We, the undersigned, are writing to request that Cornell University immediately halts its plan to install new artificial turf fields as part of the $55 million Meinig Fieldhouse project. We are deeply concerned about the environmental and health implications associated with artificial turf, including plastic pollution, toxicity, increased injury risk, and conflicts with sustainability goals.

Over 85% of Ithacans opposed the installation of artificial turf at Ithaca College in spring 2023, according to a poll in the Ithaca Times. Additionally, the Town of Ithaca Conservation Board recently wrote a letter to the Town of Ithaca Planning Board voicing concerns about Cornell University’s proposed synthetic playing fields. Yet despite these objections, Cornell University has not reconsidered its plans to move ahead with plastic turf.

Artificial turf has been linked to numerous environmental and public health concerns, including:

1. PLASTIC POLLUTION

Artificial turfs like those proposed by Cornell University shed microplastics, significantly contributing to plastic waste at the end of their life. Plastic pollution occurs throughout artificial turf’s lifecycle, from extraction to disposal, making it a significant climate factor. According to a recent scientific study in Environmental Pollution, artificial turf ranks among the top causes of outdoor microplastic pollution.

Moreover, plastic turfs are nearly impossible to “recycle” at the end of their life, despite claims to the contrary. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently exposed how Pennsylvania became “a dumping ground for discarded artificial turf,” violating state environmental laws.

2. TOXICITY AND PFAS CONTAMINATION

Artificial turfs contain PFAS, notoriously known as “forever chemicals,” which pose an imminent threat to water systems and endanger both human health and ecosystems. Claims to “PFAS-free” turfs are questionable. PFAS are not only present in infill crumbs, but also in blades.

Artificial turf additionally poses environmental justice concerns throughout its lifecycle. Cities like Dalton, Georgia, the “carpet capital of the world,” receive the brunt of this toxic contamination.

3. HEALTH HAZARDS

Athletes using artificial turfs are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals, raising substantial health concerns. The Guardian reports that artificial turf may be linked to the deaths of six Philadelphia Phillies players who developed the rare brain cancer glioblastoma. In February 2024, The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article voicing concerns from parents and coaches about the connection between artificial turf and cancer in student athletes.

4. INCREASED INJURY RISK

Synthetic playing fields are associated with a greater risk of foot and ankle injuries for athletes compared to natural grass. A survey conducted by the NFL Players Association reveals that 92% of NFL players prefer grass over plastic turfs.

5. COST

While artificial turf is often advertised as a cheap and convenient alternative to natural grass turf, a breakdown of expenses from Safe Healthy Playing Fields Inc. reveals that cost savings are often exaggerated. Furthermore, plastic turf must be replaced every 8–10 years and still needs to be regularly cleaned and maintained.

6. CONFLICT WITH SUSTAINABILITY GOALS

The installation of artificial turf conflicts with Cornell’s environmental goals to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2035 and to “lead by example on campus and exercise climate leadership beyond campus.” The use of plastic artificial turf made of fossil fuel is also incompatible with Ithaca’s environmental values and goals.

* * *

In light of these concerns, we urge Cornell University’s Administration to reconsider its plans to install artificial turf. Instead, we implore that the University explore sustainable alternatives such as natural grass, prioritizing the wellbeing of our environment, student athletes, and community.

We also call upon the Tompkins County Legislature to institute a county-wide ban on the installation of artificial turf, joining dozens of other municipalities and states working on bans and moratoriums. This ban would demonstrate our collective commitment to environmental stewardship and public health, aligning with the county’s sustainability goals and initiatives.

***

SOURCES

Bumbaca, Chris. “‘It’s Not Rocket Science’: NFL Turf Debate Rages On Although 92% of Players Prefer Grass.” USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/super-bowl/2024/02/07/grass-or-turf-nfl-players-overwhelmingly-pick-one-over-the-other/72515239007/.

Butler, Megan. “Panel Asked to Hold Georgia’s ‘Carpet Capital’ Liable for Contaminated Drinking Water.” Courthouse News Service. September 13, 2022. https://www.courthousenews.com/panel-asked-to-hold-georgias-carpet-capital-liable-for-contaminated-drinking-water/.

City of Ithaca. “Sustainable Ithaca.” https://www.cityofithaca.org/421/Sustainable-Ithaca.

Cornell University. “Sustainable Campus.” https://sustainablecampus.cornell.edu/climate-action/climate-action-plan.

Crandall, Brian. “Cornell Shares Details on New $55M Athletics Facility Project.” The Ithaca Voice. December 28, 2023. https://ithacavoice.org/2023/12/cornell-shares-details-on-new-athletic-facility/.

De Haan, William P., Rocío Quintana, César Vilas, Andrés Cózar, Miquel Canals, Oriol Uviedo, and Anna Sanchez-Vidal. “The Dark Side of Artificial Greening: Plastic Turfs as Widespread Pollutants of Aquatic Environments.” Environmental Pollution 334 (2023): 122094. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2023.122094.

Ithaca Times. “Do You Think Ithaca College Should Replace the Grass Field at Butterfield Stadium With Artificial Turf?” June 7, 2023. https://www.ithaca.com/opinion/question_of_the_week/do-you-think-ithaca-college-should-replace-the-grass-field-at-butterfield-stadium-with-artificial/poll_7aff9034-054e-11ee-9b25-579d4c7a178d.html.

Johnson, Carla K. “What Does the Science Say about the Grass vs. Turf Debate in Sports?” Associated Press. October 9, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/nfl-aaron-rodgers-achilles-grass-artificial-turf-79212f5443cd2a0d30fe8c9d981b13c0.

Larker, Barber, and David Gambacorta. “‘Forever Fields’: How Pennsylvania Became a Dumping Ground for Discarded Artificial Turf.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. December 13, 2023. https://www.inquirer.com/news/pennsylvania/artificial-turf-pfas-rematch-pennsylvania-dumping-ground-20231213.html.

Larker, Barber, and David Gambacorta. “‘Risky Play: A Stew of Toxic Chemicals Lurks in Artificial Turf. Some Experts Worry They Could be Linked to Cancer in Young Athletes.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. February 20, 2024. https://www.inquirer.com/news/pennsylvania/artificial-turf-pfas-rematch-pennsylvania-dumping-ground-20231213.html.

Perkins, Tom. “Artificial Turf Potentially Linked to Cancer Deaths of Six Phillies Ball Players.” The Guardian. March 10, 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/mar/10/phillies-ball-players-cancer-artifical-turf?CMP=share_btn_tw.

Persellin, Ketura. “New Studies Show PFAS in Artificial Grass Blades and Backing.” Environmental Working Group. October 29, 2019. https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/new-studies-show-pfas-artificial-grass-blades-and-backing.

Safe Healthy Playing Fields Inc. “Costs: Grass vs. Synthetic Turf.” https://www.safehealthyplayingfields.org/cost-grass-vs-synthetic-turf.

Town of Ithaca Conservation Board. “Cornell University Meinig Fieldhouse Project.” January 31, 2024. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1lWuRUpp5JwnV1ndbapoHgjvRpKQRbj0X/view.

Toxic Use Reduction Institute. “Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Artificial Turf Carpet.” February 2020. https://www.turi.org/var/plain_site/storage/original/application/2af7f525abb175811f54b1dfb8ccc5c8.pdf.