MACo Argues for County Choice on Using Synthetic Turf

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified in opposition to legislation against the use of synthetic turf fields before the House Appropriations Committee on February 8, 2018. The bill, HB 505, was sponsored by Delegate Aruna Miller.

HB 505 would require the state or local unit that is constructing a playground or athletic field to give a preference, to the maximum extent practicable, to natural surface materials if state funds are involved. The bill would also prohibit the use of state funds to build a new or replacement playground or athletic field with a synthetic surface.

Knapp cited the many benefits that synthetic turf fields can provide, their importance to county recreational programs, and the lack of research conclusively showing that the fields pose a health or safety risk. From MACo’s testimony:

Artificial and synthetic turf fields provide many recreational benefits over regular turf. The Maryland Association of County Park and Recreation Administrators (MACPRA) conservatively estimates that more than 3.5 million individuals play on artificial or synthetic turf fields in Maryland every year. They further report that research has shown that the fields do not increase the risk of injuries or cause other health concerns. The fields reduce exposure to pesticides and herbicides and allow for greater use than regular turf fields.

Restricting or discouraging the use of synthetic and turf fields would place an unnecessary hardship on already limited local funds. The General Assembly has considered and rejected synthetic turf bans or prohibitions nearly every year for the last five or six years.

MACo fully supports ongoing research into the safety of synthetic turf fields. As the bill’s fiscal note indicates, there is a comprehensive and ongoing multi-agency federal research action plan (FRAP) that is studying the potential health effects of the fields. Announced in January of 2016, the FRAP includes the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It would be premature to consider any action regarding the use of POS or other state funding for synthetic turf fields while this research is underway.

MACPRA President and Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks Director Rick Anthony joined Knapp in opposing the bill. Anthony testified that county parks and recreation departments are professionally run and track issues regarding both natural turf and synthetic turf fields closely and that counties should be allowed to choose which fields work best for them. Both Knapp and Anthony stated that if the federal research conclusively shows that synthetic turf fields pose a health threat, counties would obviously respond.

The Maryland Sierra Club, State Healthy Playing Fields Coalition, Montgomery County Civic Federation, Montgomery County Green Democrats, and the Patient Consumer Public Health Coalition testified in support of the bill.

SB 763 is the cross-file to HB 505 and is set to be heard by Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on March 7.

Useful Links

HB 505 of 2018

MACo Testimony on HB 505

Delegate Aruna Miller Webpage

WTOP News Article on HB 505 Hearing (2018-02-10)