Q. What's the deal with astroturf? It's green in color but is it green where it counts? - Caroline, Md.
A. Dad may want to nix that fake grass putting green: synthetic turf's rep is taking a pounding this spring. Four New Jersey artificial playing fields have registered high levels of lead, the neurotoxic heavy metal, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating, according to the Washington Post. And not only that, but the recycled crumb rubber fill used as padding has been found to release toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These include styrene-butadiene, classified by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen, and whose inhalation can produce irritation of eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Another VOC in the fill, ethylene-propylene, is on EPA's hazardous air pollutants list.
No ill-health effects have been reported from synthetic turf regarding any of these contaminants (lead poisoning turns skin blue, but it is not, for instance, where the Blue Devils, long-time artificial turfers, got their name). Still, it doesn't sound like a surface we want to sunbathe on at Chelsea Piers, or watch toddlers tumble on. Ironically, the lead is used to produce the green color.
The best alternative for Dad and other yardbirds? Grass is getting more popular, but we already know that many lawn-care pesticides are neurotoxic, like lead. The win-win answer is an organic lawn or playing field, cultivated without toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizer. For how-to organic yard tips, go to Safelawns.org. Or get your child's school or your park superintendent to buy this organic lawn care book from the Northwest Organic Farming Association.
This article originally appeared in Plenty in May 2008. The story was moved to MNN.com in July 2009.
Copyright Environ Press 2008