Covering our community and school fields with plastic grass and rubber soil is a disturbing and concerning trend. Artificial has become a status symbol for many communities where they are all too willing to raid already tight education budgets and sacrifice good education for an artificial field.
While the science is far from settled, there is enough information to demonstrate that artificial turf may pose significant environment, health, safety and quality of life threats to our communities.
Studies have concluded that artificial turf has the potential to pollute our environment with PAHs, phenols and zinc. As a result, runoff from an artificial turf field that drains to a local creek can pose a risk of toxic effects. It is believed that chemicals leaching from synthetic turf materials will occur slowly and, as a result, the environmental harms may take place over many years. Placing artificial turf removes the benefits for pollution filtering and stormwater management that natural grass would provide — artificial turf provides no such benefits.
In addition, there are studies underway to consider the effects of artificial turf on increasing sports injuries, including increasing the frequency and severity of head injuries, increasing the potential for infection and skin burns, as well as causing or exacerbating allergies, and exposing those who use it to dangerous toxins including carcinogens as well as chemicals which are reprotoxic, mutagenic and endocrine disrupting.
Artificial turf gets much hotter than grass. Studies have found temperatures on artificial turf exceeding temperatures on nearby natural grass in ranges of 39° F to 95° to even 140° F hotter. The result is artificial turf fields, where kids and adults are expected to play their best, at temperatures 117 to 157 degrees and even hotter.
While irrigation can provide temporary cooling for synthetic turf that has reached such high heat levels, the relief is temporary with temperatures returning to the original extremes in just about 20 minutes some study has found.
While studies are ongoing, European countries are sufficiently concerned that some have put in place regulations or policies addressing the environmental threats of artificial turf. And states across the U.S. are also starting to wise-up and to recognize the need for environmental, health and safety study before artificial turf fields are installed.
Decisionmakers need to recognize that until the full impacts of artificial turf are studied, understood and known, they need to be making the protective decision, the risk averse decision, the decision that puts in place and keeps in place natural grass. Plastic grass and rubber soil are a luxury we can ill-afford. And when our school budgets, whether matched by some hefty local donor or not, can ill-afford the high cost of artificial turf, a surface that often has to be disposed of and replaced at similarly high costs in sometimes less than 10 years.
Environmentally grass is not as good as a forest, wetlands, or meadow field. But for a kid at school looking for a place to hangout and play — whether that be playing at sports or just with their friends — natural grass is cooler, and it is real. With so much artificial nature and artificial play already in the lives of kids, often delivered through a TV or computer screen, protecting living lawns where a child can quietly pull blades of grass while talking to friends, that will cool their backs as they lay back to watch the clouds blow by, or cushion a fall during a sports game is a small but significant quality we can protect in their lives.
What you can do?
When Artificial Turf fields are proposed for your community, recall the joys of playing on real fields, made of grass and soil, even when soaked with rain. There are methods, that are much more cost effective, for protecting, preserving and enhancing natural grass fields.
It is common strategy for school boards to refer to a local donor willing to make a large contribution but only to be used for an artificial turf field. Don’t let the allure of big money turn your head – whether that money is ultimately donated or not, it will not be used to enhance educational programs that benefit all kids, it will simply be used for one area, one field, one section of your school grounds used by a limited subsection of the school body, and sadly to their detriment.
Some communities, some states, some countries have invested in solid science to investigate the health, injury and environmental harms of artificial turf — rather than investing energy and money in a turf field, urge your decisoinmakers to invest in science and education.