Real talk about artificial turf

IMG_0525My suburb-city recently cut down 300 trees to install two artificial turf playing fields at a public middle school. These are being used for sports leagues at night and on weekends, and for PE classes during the weekdays. More are about to be added in the park across the street. My children are grown and will not be playing on these fields, yet I do feel a responsibility to share my red-flag about them with parents of younger children not just locally but throughout the United States as these fields are being added in many other places (some of which I pass while Traveling at the Speed of Bike).

So here goes, for what it’s worth. Please do your own research and consider asking for detailed product information (not just the manufacturer’s spec sheet) specific to your circumstance so you can provide informed consent before your child plays either willingly (in a league) or as required (in PE class at school) on these fields.

It appears that there are unknown answers regarding the long-term safety and health effects of various materials used in typical artificial turf*, especially on the still-growing bodies of children. Both the EPA and the CDC are currently conducting studies which do not yet have results or recommendations. I am a precautionary-principle person, especially when it comes to kids, and am not a fan of my children being guinea pigs so the use of these fields at this middle school would have been an issue for me as a parent.

Please be an informed consumer and citizen and take a look at the recent (May 2017) Artificial Turf Health-Based Consumer Guide from Mt. Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center. It will help you understand what questions you may want to ask your city or school, and what to have your child do to increase safety after playing on an artificial turf field (good luck getting schools to let them take showers after PE).

I am not interested in starting or participating in a debate about artificial turf, cutting down trees, public ballfields or anything else related. My entire intention is to share my concern, parent-to-parent, and to pass this one on to the next generation.

Question to those at Mercedes Benz Stadium, which is the most sustainable sports stadium in the United States: I noticed when I was Traveling at the Speed of Bike recently that the playground in your new tailgating area appears to be artificial turf. What product did you use, and how did you make that decision? 

* I am particularly interested in the use of cork-based products for a wide range of uses (including as artificial turf) after the exhaustive research I did prior to and following an investigative journalism trip a few years ago where I traipsed through cork oak forests and factories. It is a miracle product with multiple desirable properties that is completely sustainable. If interested, take a peek at Talking Cork with Pattie Baker. Note: When these ball fields were first proposed, I suggested that a cork-based version of artificial turf be explored. I don’t know if that ever happened. 

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