To the Editor:
On Monday evening, the Board of Representatives in Stamford voted overwhelmingly to accept a grant to install an artificial turf field at Stamford High School. Only five Representatives voted to abstain, no one opposed, and the remainder voted in favor. I listened to the debate, and I understand the reasoning: money for parks is scarce in Stamford and the children should play sports.
Nevertheless, I was disappointed and puzzled. Why are my friends and supporters, all fervent advocates for addressing the climate crisis on the one hand, voting for removing green space and replacing it with plastic fields on the other hand? How can we as part of the leadership in the City of Stamford promote the new Mayor’s Initiative to Combat Global Warming while signing off at the same time on yet another heat island in this city that’s already lacking sufficient green space? Why was I compelled, when being a member of the Parks & Recreation Commission, to formulate, discuss and pass a policy that would ban artificial turf fields, when my compatriots don’t see the urgency? Maybe it’s my lived experience. Maybe my personal story can sway some opinions.
I grew up in a tiny village with just 292 (!) inhabitants. The village was remote, and traditions were long- lived. I learned that this tiny village was in fact a Petri dish for the health consequences of the chemical industries. While there haven’t been any epidemiological studies that proof beyond any doubt that the artificial turf fields were the cause of the cancer clusters among goalies of a girls’ soccer team reported by NBC News in 2015, or the fatal brain cancers among the ball players in Philadelphia (see the Guardian.com on 3/10/2023), the observations in my village of the distribution of specific cancers related to the use of certain chemicals make it very clear to me!
When my first sibling was diagnosed with a fatal aggressive cancer at age 46, I learned about the chemicals that were used in my village. When my father heard the devastating news about his daughter, he wondered if it could have anything to do with the use of DDT when we were young. He explained that he would routinely smear the backsides of the cows with a DDT salve with his bare hands, and for good measure he would also spray DDT throughout our living room, to get rid of these pesky flies. My jaw dropped: I had no idea that I grew up in this chemically poisonous environment. He continued to tell me that we all got to drink milk from our DDT-smeared cows from the day we were born since breastmilk was considered cumbersome and old-fashioned at that time. There went my image of growing up on a wholesome healthy farm!
That was just the beginning.
My father, who had only an elementary school education, had observed some other patterns between the use of chemicals and types of disease. The families of potato farmers were struck at high rates by one type of cancer, while the Belgian endive producers were suffering from another type. He mentioned the specific pesticides used for each crop, which I don’t remember. I was struck by the clarity of the evidence that he laid out. Of course, epidemiological studies would find the numbers too small to constitute conclusive evidence, to me it seemed clear that all of us were ticking time bombs waiting for the next diagnosis.
The next sister got an aggressive cancer at 31 (she survived), and the next one was diagnosed at 47, and passed at 50. Two more were diagnosed with debilitating immune disorders. My brother added another piece of information: half of the kids I grew up with were dead and buried on the local cemetery before age 50! Do we really need to wait for the evidence of chemicals’ ruinous effects? When my father was diagnosed with emphysema, he didn’t think smoking was the culprit, stubbornly continuing to accept the marketing propaganda by the tobacco industry. I however was resolved through what I grasped about the history of chemicals in my village, to be more active and resolute in defending the planet, stave off climate change and ensure our children have a future.
My father’s unscientific analysis imparts one overriding lesson: our own informal observations of connections between disease and chemical industries were correct, even though it would take many years of denial and litigation before there was proof and evidence. Smoking, DTT, Roundup – observations of cancer, dead birds, and ruined habitats were shared informally years before class action suits forced the industries to change course. For me, the artificial turf is just another damaging hoax promoted by the industry in this long line of chemical products. We’d better learn the lessons from the past, and don’t wait before the ‘evidence’ is presented. The future of our children is at stake.
Ruijter serves as Town Clerk of Stamford