We are on artificial turf, folks, pretending that what we are doing as a society is good and healthy and sustainable (or knowing that what we are doing is not, and either feeling powerless to change it or simply operating from a different set of expectations for how our world can be).
Here is the latest addition to my #PlasticPlaces photo essay about the proliferation of artificial turf surfaces being added to our communities, taken yesterday while Traveling at the Speed of Bike.
Below is also a pitch I did recently to write an article about it for the environmental news organization for which I recently wrote the scooter article about end-of-life disposal issues. I was told that there are already enough stories about artificial turf, which is not my belief about this topic. It was suggested I pitch it elsewhere, but this got me thinking, yet again, about how I want to spend my precious, unrepeatable resource of time (and researching and writing articles is extremely time-consuming).
I cannot beg people to care. I cannot beg people to employ the precautionary principle. And so I leave this here now, in case it somehow matters to someone, somewhere, someday.
The Grass Is Always Greener . . . or Is It?
Federal agencies take a second look at artificial turf
Artificial turf, first introduced in the 1960s, is increasingly carpeting outdoor spaces in the United States. Ball fields in cities, suburbs, school campuses, and military bases; publicly-accessible gathering spaces; dog parks; children’s playgrounds; and private property from residential backyards to rooftop bars are now sporting the material seemingly overnight. You’re not imagining this. In fact, there were 12,000-13,000 synthetic turf fields in 2016 with an estimated 1,200-1,500 new installations added each year (although, it appears to me as if that rate has escalated in this past year or so). It is being touted as an environmentally and budget-friendly way to save water; eliminate harmful pesticides and costly fertilizers commonly used on natural turf; and provide an aesthetically-consistent, durable surface that can last decades.
Limited studies showed no harm from the materials used in artificial turf. However, gaps in that research have been identified, and both the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pulled back from their previous statements regarding artificial turf, acknowledging the multiple concerns raised by the scientific and public communities about the product. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies artificial turf as one of seven sources of lead exposure for children, recommending precautions posted at field entrances to warn of steps to avoid exposure risks. Here is a Fact Sheet released in 2015, with chilling warnings (note that in my suburb-city, an artificial turf field is used for middle school PE — and PE is required — without providing the ability for children to abide by these recommendations afterwards).
Since then, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched a multi-agency action plan to study key environmental human health questions. That series of studies is now complete and the report has finished undergoing peer review before public release. Here is the reply I received re: when that final report will be released:
Might there be reason for those in a position to choose artificial turf to adopt the precautionary principle at least until this report and its findings are made public? As an additional sidebar, are there existing or emerging alternatives to artificial turf (such as soil-benefiting, nitrogen-fixing, low-maintenance, perennial clovers or a cork-based product that is naturally antimicrobial, fire proof, lightweight, biodegradable, and fully sustainable to grow and harvest) that would be beneficial to consider instead?
For this 1500-word story and 500-word sidebar, I would seek to interview those involved in the research at government agencies, those at turf companies or industry associations, those in a decision-making capacity at public and private places, those in charge of PE protocol at my local middle school, and those who offer or have chosen alternatives.
P.S. I could also include mention of how Europe is addressing this issue, if it is easy enough to do that briefly. Future article idea: The USA/Europe differences regarding the precautionary principle and allowable ingredients (such as when major food manufacturers have separate production lines for each in order to meet the different standards).
* Note that, just as with scooters, there is little regard paid to end-of-life disposal. I also wonder about the leaching of plastic microparticles, but both of those issues are beyond the scope of this story. ￼