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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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.