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Artificial turf is commonplace on athletic fields all over the U.S. There are benefits to turf: it uses less water, requires less maintenance and has much higher durability than grass fields. But many have become concerned about the impact artificial turf can have on children's health, as well as the burden on taxpayers with synthetic turf costing around $800,000.
Many turf fields are covered in fake dirt called crumb rubber, which is made up of recycled tires. Experts are still trying to figure out how much of a threat crumb rubber poses to children, but we already know that tires contain dangerous toxins. It's just a question of whether or not kids are being exposed to these toxins and what schools and city officials are doing to address the potential exposure. That's what reporter Cara Santa Maria seeks to find out in this video posted on KCET, the largest independent pubic television station in the U.S.
Santa Maria interviews people in the Los Angeles area like Jenny Chamberlain, who avoids turf fields in her area because her child's shoes kept melting from the heat that turf fields give off. She measured the temperature of the turf fields her child was playing on, and they often registered 40 degrees hotter than grass fields. Turf companies claim artificial turf is safe because kids don't ingest the crumb rubber. Chamberlain, however, doesn't buy it because she has seen kids drop an orange, brush it off and eat it—putting them at risk of exposure. Kids also fall on the ground constantly in sports and risk ingesting the crumb rubber that way, too.
Kids might not even have to put the crumb rubber in their mouths. Dr. James Seltzer, an allergy and immunology specialist, says, "There is a number of heavy metals that are present in crumb rubber" and "some of the chemicals in crumb rubber can vaporize into the air, so anybody in the vicinity can be exposed to small amounts of these volatile compounds. Whether those small amounts are truly harmful or not is still a question mark. It hasn't been fully answered," he said.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
The potential threat to children's health and well being is enough for Michael Shull, general manager of the City of Los Angles Department of Recreation and Parks. He says that even though the research is inconclusive, the city has already decided to stop using crumb rubber in its fields. Check out this map that shows where crumb rubber fields are in the LA area.
The Los Angeles Unified School District already banned crumb rubber in 2009 because of the health risks. When they tested their fields and found lead, even in low concentrations, they decided to phase out crumb rubber and instead use virgin rubber or cork. Now that all city-operated athletic fields are phasing out crumb rubber, community members who use athletic fields that aren't property of the city and those who live outside of Los Angeles are still concerned about their health and their children's health.
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?