Carroll County’s Debate Over Artificial Sports Turf Installation Continues Amid Safety and Health Concerns
For more than a decade, Carroll County’s sports enthusiasts have advocated for the installation of artificial turf on high school and recreational facilities. However, the main roadblock has been securing adequate funding. Yet, recent safety concerns and health risks associated with synthetic fields have thrown an additional curveball into the debate.
Carroll County has long trailed behind neighboring counties like Frederick, Howard, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore, where high school stadiums proudly display impressive turf fields. Access to local artificial turf fields at Gerstell Academy and McDaniel has been limited and costly to schedule, pushing recreational, club, and high school sports teams to travel across county lines for turf facilities. Even with the addition of turf fields at Coppermine 4 Seasons in Hampstead in 2021, locals argue it remains insufficient and lacks central accessibility.
Previous attempts by the county to fund turf installations, like the proposed project at North Carroll High School in 2019, encountered setbacks despite initial backing from the Board of County Commissioners. The allocation of $500,000, coupled with an additional $500,000 fundraising goal from the state, proved unsuccessful, casting doubt on the county’s ability to finance additional turf fields.
While the primary obstacle to Carroll’s adoption of artificial turf fields has been financial, the decision may inadvertently benefit county athletes, given the longstanding, and now growing, safety concerns associated with artificial turf.
Studies conducted between 1972 and 2020 have consistently found a higher rate of foot and ankle injuries on artificial turf compared to natural grass, raising concerns among athletes and parents alike.
“It’s an epidemic,” said Donnelly. “When these ladies tear their ACLs, we fix them, we send them back, and then they’re actually more likely to tear their opposite ACL.”
Adding to the concerns of potential health risks is a possible link between extended turf exposure and cancer, especially with controversial infill materials like crumb rubber from recycled tires. In a 2023 research study among several reports, a rare brain cancer, tragically claiming the lives of six professional US baseball players, has been linked to toxic chemicals in artificial turf, intensifying the urgency for a comprehensive health study. Looking back to 2014, a troubling connection surfaced among 38 soccer players across the U.S., with a notable 34 of them being goalkeepers, all diagnosed with blood cancers. The suspicion arises from the continuous bodily contact goalkeepers have with turf, raising concerns about potential heightened risks.
Contrary to the belief that Carroll County is slow to catch up, the current reluctance to pursue artificial turf might be a prudent choice. While there’s consensus among the sports community that investments in improved athletic fields are a must, the question remains whether those investments should be directed to improved natural grass or artificial turf.