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.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.
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Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.
Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.
"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.
"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."
One of the concerns about a warming planet is the feedback loop that will emerge. That is, as the planet warms, it will melt permafrost, which will release trapped carbon and lead to more warming and more melting. Now, a new study has shown that the feedback loop won't only happen in the nether regions of the north and south, but in the tropics as well, according to a new paper in Nature.
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By Jessica Corbett
A sheriff in Florida is under fire for deciding Tuesday to ban his deputies from wearing face masks while on the job—ignoring the advice of public health experts about the safety measures that everyone should take during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the rising Covid-19 death toll in his county and state.
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<div id="79024" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4ac086eab58b9713f2ad777c40938252"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293578984148606977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">This actively puts peoples' lives at risk. https://t.co/GKF0Xgjyex</div> — CAP Action (@CAP Action)<a href="https://twitter.com/CAPAction/statuses/1293578984148606977">1597248238.0</a></blockquote></div>
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