On Feb. 6, New Haven City Plan commissioners gave Quinnipiac University a stamp of approval for a new turf field — less than two months after Yale got a similar thumbs up on their own turf field in December of last year.

Yale is now planning to convert the Yale Bowl — its largest athletic stadium — to turf, despite objections by environmental advocates in the Elm City. The New Haven Environmental Advisory Council — a board tasked with environmental education and initiatives in New Haven — was not consulted over conversion plans.

“Replacing a foot to a foot and a half of soil … gets rid of the soil which filters all kinds of toxins and is the earth’s ways of dealing with anything that happens to it.” Laura Cahn, chairwoman of the Environmental Advisory Council told the News. “Replacing these layers of soil with plastic is like suffocating the planet.”

In addition to the environmental issues, Cahn raised concerns with the process that the University went through to replace the soil with turf. In December, City Plan commissioners unanimously approved of the University’s conversion plans despite objections from Cahn and the Environmental Advisory Council. Cahn noted that there was no public hearing on the proposal of the turf field where residents could voice concerns to city agents.

In an interview with the News, Iris Kaminski — a member of the Environmental Council and public health lecturer at Yale — said she is disappointed that Yale and Quinnipiac are installing new turf fields, noting that the environmental concerns should be taken more seriously in the face of climate change.

“We’re going backwards,” Kaminski said. “Ten years ago, it’s great. Now with all we know about climate change you don’t want to add a synthetic surface that the water could go through.”

Apart from environmental concerns, recent research has shown that turf fields can be dangerous for athletes.

Kaminski cited research by Amy Griffin, former American soccer star and coach of the University of Washington women’s soccer team, on athletes who have been injured or physically harmed after playing on turf. In her research, Griffin lists 260 athletes who have been diagnosed with cancer after playing on turf fields.

“The turf after some time crumples. It gets powdery; it could go into your mouth; you could get bruises; it could go into your eyes,” Kaminski told the News. “There are other alternatives.”

Frustrated with these issues being ignored, Cahn noted that technology seems to be outpacing the state laws to limit it.

Luckily for Cahn and other environmental and athlete safety activists, there is some momentum swelling in Connecticut to address this issue. Legislation is currently moving through Hartford to ban the purchase and use of artificial turf on state and municipal land. State Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden — the bill’s sponsor — is focused on the health risks to athletes who compete on the fields.

“We are concerned with the long-term health impacts of crumb rubber in the state, with some studies pointing to potential health risks,” Elliott told the News.

Elliott said that although there are good reasons to use crumb rubber in turf as it is likely to be safer than other synthetic materials, the long-term risks of this rubber outweigh any shorter term gains.

Cahn empathized with those who do not want restrictions on the materials with which they can build fields, yet stressed the need to take climate change and the environment seriously.

“We don’t want to impede on people’s freedom,” she told the News. “But we do have a responsibility to protect the well-being of all of our citizens and all our planet. We have to balance the need for freedom, for individual freedom, with the need for welfare for everyone. With everything.”

The legislation to limit turf fields currently has three cosponsors in the state house and one in the senate. The bill is awaiting further action after a public hearing was held in Hartford on Feb. 15.

Emmett Shell | emmett.shell@yale.edu