The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
The Skinny on Children and Toxic Turf
By Joan Spoerl
Over the last two decades, I've worked as an early childhood educator and as a volunteer advocating for policies and practices that support the well-being of all children.
To my mind, children's well-being is inextricably linked to public health and environmental issues so I've accumulated a bit of information about these and have developed a tendency to ponder the repercussions of various products and practices.
In recent years, my interest in gardening and nature drew me to a few very informative presentations about the dangers of synthetic lawn chemicals and pesticides developed and marketed after WWII and the alternative approach of organic lawn care.
As I learned more about organic turf care, I accidentally learned more about artificial (synthetic) turf and its sudden ubiquity. While I learned about the exorbitant cost of artificial turf and its many negative health and environmental implications from numerous public health and environmental experts, I also learned that others have the false impression that not only are there no negatives to artificial turf, but that there are no good alternatives.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
I wondered to myself, how did this happen? I have some ideas.
Companies hire firm to defend toxic turfs
I learned that Gradient Corporation is defending the safety of artificial turf. A little research revealed that Gradient Corporation also defended arsenic in wood, the smokeless cigarette and BPA in plastic.
Apparently, companies hire Gradient to defend their products and protect them from future liability.
Even without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers alone will destroy the microbial life of the soil, cause quick but shallow root growth, and then lead to soil compaction and a vicious cycle of drainage and pest problems. And of course, many of these fields are under constant and heavy use, which leads to further compaction. Consequently, athletic directors found themselves with playing fields in very poor condition and in need of total renovation. Synthetic turf likely seemed the only alternative.
One community adopted it and with reassurance about its efficacy from Gradient Corporation and the industry itself, others followed.
Safer options exist
However, thanks to many developments in organic lawn care in recent years, there is an alternative way to effectively renovate and maintain a beautiful, real grass playing field safely and organically at one-third to one-half the cost of artificial turf. Many communities have done this already.
In my opinion, it is irresponsible for school and community leaders to consider only the options of the status quo, a chemically-based lawn care program or synthetic turf. They should consider the pros and cons for each with the overarching goal of "doing no harm" to the current or future generations whether it relates to health, landfill space, implications for the watershed and more.
Real grass vs. a synthetic turf renovation
Both types of fields require maintenance and maintenance costs are similar.
Synthetic turf requires additional infill, irrigation due to high temperatures, application of harmful disinfectants, sprays to reduce static cling and odors, drainage repair and maintenance, removing organic matter accumulation, repairs of seams.
Organically maintained grass will require natural fertilization to support the microbial life in the soil, aeration, overseeding, mowing and depending upon the weather, watering. With high quality seeds and care, maintenance costs usually decrease over time. It is a natural system and requires no cleaning; the microbial life of the soil can help to break down body fluid spills, animal feces and more.
Before 2010, many synthetic turf companies used lead paint to paint the plastic grass blades green (they took the lead out when faced with a lawsuit).
Water use is an issue for both types of fields. Synthetic turf requires cleaning with water mixed with disinfectants. The industry now also sells water cannons to use on hot days (which works to cool the field for about 20 minutes). With the right seed and weather, one may be able to decrease water usage for real grass. Water conservation systems such as gray water and rain reclamation systems could be incorporated (perhaps more easily with real grass than artificial turf).
Turf doesn't just harm children
Public health and environmental experts are concerned that athletes are inhaling, ingesting or absorbing the over 30 toxins in crumb rubber infill used in many fields and tracking them into their homes.
Children are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals and are unable to process them due to their rapidly developing bodies and organ systems, but adults are still vulnerable. The negative health effects might not show up for years, but public health pediatricians now recognize that even low exposures to toxic chemicals can have dire long-term consequences for children and their offspring.
Toxic turfs cost more than grass fields
Artificial turf fields cost between $500,000-$1,000,000. My school district has a quote for $750,000 for one field (without maintenance and disposal costs, this amounts to $75,000/year). Oddly, many school and community leaders have balked at annual maintenance costs for real grass yet are willing to spend far more for disposable, synthetic turf. A premium organic renovation with real grass would cost approximately $300,000.
Synthetic turf fields need to be replaced and discarded about every 10 years. Disposal costs can be considerable, especially for those using crumb rubber infill since it is made of hazardous waste (not including the hidden costs of the space all of these will occupy in landfills nationwide). One report cites a disposal cost of $130,000.
Rundown on the turf
- Synthetic turf fields are made of petroleum. Even without infill, the chemicals used to make the fields will break down to some degree under heavy use and end up in our watershed or air.
- Synthetic turf can reach dangerous temperatures on hot days and should not be used in these conditions.
- Synthetic turf has to be replaced, making it a very costly option.
Because my world view leads me to believe that when it comes to children, the environment and public health, it is safer to err on the side of caution and to reduce unnecessary exposure to toxins, I believe that a beautifully, thoroughly renovated organic turf field is a better option for my community.
As it turns out, it's better for our fiscal health as well.
Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.