When Green is not Green, OR-- The Question of Artifical Turf

Posted by Muriel Ballard on Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 at 2:26pm.

When one of our dear friends proudly displayed his new, permanently manicured lawn to us some years back, my intuition immediately kicked in saying, this doesn’t feel right…  Here was a yard where two dogs handled their daily duties, and a slew of kids played regularly.  I wondered, how does it get clean?  He explained to us that he sprays it down (waters it…?) to clean off the poop.  But no mowing required, and far less water required to keep it clean than to grow it.

Well, they are trend-setters and, as usual were well ahead of their time.  In the last year or two, however, I am noticing more artificial lawns being installed and felt the need to investigate the matter more thoroughly.  Is this a real concern, or just an odd hunch?

First of all, I can say that a lot of people really don’t want to discuss this.  And it will definitely be offensive to those who have already installed the lawns.  Regardless, it is imperative that we look to the future and not succumb to instant gratification when it may have dangerous implications in the long run.

So, on that eerie note, let’s begin with the pro’s.  I didn’t even have to look these up or research them!

PRO’S

·        Looks great.  Here is an always green lawn, always perfectly manicured.  (Though I do have a sick love, actually enjoying the mowing of grass, especially executing what I call the “Vanity cut”, which is a cut on the bias— you don’t see that with artificial turf.)

·        Low maintenance.  Without pets, the need to water this grass is non-existent.  Leaves will still need to be blown, but they appear to sit lightly on top of the grass vs. getting all stuck and requiring a real rake.  Does not require feeding.

·        No Pesticides.  Pests will not live on this surface = no pesticides.

My research has led me to understand that artificial turf also allows for longer, safer playing on fields because it doesn’t come up in trip-hazard clumps and big streaky, muddy messes.

CON’S

(These I had to look up because, other than my hunch that the dog poo was lingering, I didn’t have a clue…)

Momsteam.com had the most unabashedly frightening list of which here are the highlights:

The heat-absorbing properties of an artificial field make it too hot to play on in extremely warm weather. On a 98-degree day, the temperature on the turf could rise to more than 120 degrees. A Brigham Young University study found that the surface temperature of synthetic turf at its football practice field was 37 degrees higher than the air temperature. Proponents point out that use of the fields can be managed to ensure that athletes aren't playing at the hottest times of the day and are adequately hydrated; as a result, they argue, the higher temperature is more of a comfort issue than safety issue. (Authors note: How might this play into climate change?)

Excessive exposure to lead has been linked to severe mental retardation, stunted growth and death. As Don Mays, senior director of product safety at the Consumer's Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, says, "There is no safe level of lead; let's be clear on that." The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees, saying that there is no safe level of lead exposure and suggesting that levels in soil be no higher than trace amounts (40 parts per million).

Older turf fields made from nylon or nylon/polyethylene blend fibers may contain levels of lead that pose a potential public health concern. Tests of artificial turf fields made with only polyethylene fibers showed that these fields contained very low levels of lead. 

Field Turf, the largest artificial turf manufacturer in North America, sells a lead-free artificial turf, but only if the community asks for the custom-made field. The fields that most communities purchase use lead to brighten the field's colors and for a sport team logo.

Says Jackie Lombardo, a member of the Sierra Club National Toxics Committee, "We know older turf products contain toxic chemicals associated with asthma, learning disabilities, and cancer. Saying they are safe because they don't contain lead is like saying cigarettes are safe because they don't contain lead. There are so many chemicals in this synthetic grass and we don't know what the effects are going to be not only on children's health, but also what the effects are on the ground water as well."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has consistently recommended "the elimination of all non-essential uses of lead" because of the potential health hazards they pose and has long considered lead dust one of the biggest known health hazards to children; it notes that the combination of age, weathering, exposure to sunlight and wear and tear can cause dust containing lead to be released from older or well-used fields.

  Zinc hazard (See article for more details)

  Other harmful chemicals: according to EHHI, shredded rubber could contain other toxic metals like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and selenium.

  Toxic run-off. When an artificial field drains after a heavy rain, the run-off (which may contain lead and infill material) could leach into and contaminate a community's ground and drinking water.

  Bacterial breeding ground. Medical experts have found that staphylococci and other bacteria can survive on polyethylene plastic, the compound used to make synthetic turf blades, for more than 90 days. Blood, sweat, skin cells and other materials can remain on the synthetic turf because the fields are not washed or cleaned.

  Adverse affect on asthmatics. Breathing in dust of ground-up tires could exacerbate breathing problems for asthmatics.

  Once artificial, always artificial. Once a community goes with artificial turf, it has no choice but to install another artificial turf field when the first one needs to be replaced because once plastic replaces natural grass, it kills any living organism in the subsoil making it impossible without years of soil remediation to grow anything on that surface.

Read more:
http://www.momsteam.com/health-safety/turf-wars-pros-and-cons-of-artificial-turf#ixzz3G4rnbeBA

On a softer note, Redbeacon.com simply states: “There are fears that the chemicals used in the manufacture of synthetic grass can be harmful to the health. Although manufacturers say that they meet health and safety standards, the debate remains inconclusive.”

Read more: http://www.redbeacon.com/hg/pros-and-cons-synthetic-grass/#ixzz3G4skaA7E

The thing that disturbs me the most is the “Once artificial, always artificial” bullet point from the Momsteam.com article.  “It kills any living organism in the subsoil”.  Wow!  That would include worms, the natural aerators, ants—picnic hoodlums, lady bugs…  What about four leaf clovers, and the other little wonders one discovers when laying in the grass like those teeny-tiny orange flowers?

The Universal Studios film, The Lorax, based on the Dr. Suess book by the same name, portrays a world in the future where there are no longer any trees.  They have all been replaced with synthetic trees as the others were so messy and unpredictable.  They are now selling oxygen in bottles because they failed to remember that the trees used to make it naturally.  This is not a child’s movie, though it is mistaken for one.  It is full of important, mature messages about the environment.

If you cannot take care of your lawn anymore, due to drought or health problems or any other concern, there are lovely and artistic options with ground-covers, xeriscaping and rock work.

xeriscaping_127

An example of xeriscaping. 

Perhaps you have ascertained by now that I am very wary of artificial lawns.  It’s not about me, it’s about the future.  The quality of our land eventually effects the quality of our water and the quality of our food.  A great oxymoron would be to put in an artificial lawn and go by organic products.

Think twice.  Not all good things in life come easily.

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