When the Yale Bowl was built in 1913-1914, it was the first stadium of its kind. It inspired many other stadiums to be built using the Bowl as the model — including the Rose Bowl.

The Yale Bowl has had a grass playing field since its inception. Tom Pepe, Yale’s sports turf supervisor in charge of the field, told Landscape Online in an interview that “to keep the natural playing surface in the Yale Bowl in pristine condition, the staff aerates the soil and performs sand-top dressing.” He added that this has been done for about 15 years, and Yale has not had to sod the football field in three to four years.

Yet the Yale football coach, Tony Reno, who wants an artificial turf field, said in the Hartford Courant in August, “The stadium is actually below sea level, so it’s hard to maintain a grass surface.”

The Yale Bowl is a National Historic Landmark. This designation is a grade above being on the National Register of Historic Places. How will acres of plastic, which is what a synthetic turf field is, look in this Historic National Landmark? How will putting down acres of plastic be in compliance with Yale’s desire to be environmentally responsible?

First, let’s explore the health issues of synthetic turf fields. A recent study conducted at Yale looked at what chemicals are in synthetic turf. The study found 96 chemicals in synthetic turf, and many of them are carcinogens.

Environment and Human Health Inc. has studied the harmful effects of synthetic turf for over nine years — and its conclusion is these fields are toxic.

EHHI recommended a moratorium on installing synthetic turf fields in 2007 because of the carcinogens in the fields, but the recommendation was not adopted. EHHI said at that time that we would start to see cancers among our student athletes who have played on synthetic fields in about 10 years. It has now been about 10 years and we are indeed seeing cancers develop — especially among soccer players. In fact, the soccer-playing goalkeepers are the most heavily impacted with lymphomas and leukemias. Among the 127 lymphomas and leukemias reported among soccer players, 85 of these cases are goalkeepers. Both those cancers are environmentally influenced.

Joel Smilow ’54 has been very generous to Yale. The Yale University Medical Center now has the Smilow Cancer Center, and the University also has the Smilow Head Football Coach, who is now Tony Reno. How ironic — the Cancer Center at Yale, funded by Smilow, now also has the Smilow football coach pushing for a toxic synthetic turf field with numerous cancer-causing chemicals.

Now, we turn to the Yale Bowl being designated as a National Historic Landmark. Nationally significant historic places are defined as National Historic Landmarks by the Secretary of the Interior because they are deemed to possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. What will our heritage look like when the surface of the Bowl is covered, not with natural grass as it always has been, but with acres of plastic?

What will the preservation community think of what Yale is proposing to do to the Bowl? We have not even mentioned that the proposal also includes putting a bubble over the Bowl.

If Yale follows through with this proposal — what will they do next? Will Yale recommend plastic grass for the Cross Campus lawn so that they won’t have to mow it?

The proposal to install a synthetic turf field in the Yale Bowl, as well as cover the Bowl at times with a bubble, is compatible with neither the way Yale renovates its buildings or how Yale aims to reduce its carbon footprint and be environmentally responsible. We will hope Yale’s better thinking will prevail and that the grass field will remain in the Yale Bowl. There is no safer surface for students to play on than natural grass.

Nancy Alderman is a 1994 graduate of Trumbull College and 1997 graduate of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She is the president of Environment and Human Health Inc. Contact her at nancy.alderman@ehhi.org .