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Daily News Blog

28
Sep

Safety Concerns Raised as California Turns to Synthetic Turf to Save Water

(Beyond Pesticides, September 28, 2015) On September 4, in an attempt to curb the overuse of water on lawns, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed into law Bill (AB 349)  (effective immediately), which prohibits homeowner associations (HOAs) from barring the installation of synthetic turf. Artificial turf has become popular over the years, and is now widely used on athletic fields and lawns across the U.S. While praised as a solution for drought-stricken states, synthetic turf has fallen under scrutiny.  A NBC investigative report raised safety concerns regarding rubber infill in the turf. Parents and administrators are looking for alternatives to replace rubber infill beneath the turf, but unfortunately the available solutions do not address all the dangers associated with artificial turf. With all forms of synthetic turf, toxic pesticides and antimicrobials are still needed for maintenance, putting children and athletes in danger.

synturfCrumb rubber, the most common infill material used in synthetic turf systems, has, according to a recent report by Environment and Human Health, Inc., carcinogenic potential and poses a danger to the health of children and athletes. Now, parents and administrators are turning to organic infill as a replacement, which consists of coconut husks, fibers and cork. While organic infill sounds good on the surface, it begins to break down over time. The infill can become wet from rain, breaks down, and can begin to contain other substances, such as dust containing minerals and other particles, leaf litter, and pollen. This creates an even greater habitat for weeds and pathogens than rubber or plastic options, which means that pesticides and antimicrobials are required for maintenance and control.

The typical athletic field or lawn is deluged with a mixture of poisons designed to kill fungus, weeds, insects, and pathogens. For example, a conventional maintenance plan for athletic turf fields includes the use of a fungicide on a regular basis to prevent fungal pathogens, a post-emergent herbicide (such as 2,4-D) to kill crabgrass and dandelion seed, a selective herbicide (such as mecoprop) to kill clover and other broadleaf weeds, and an insecticide (such as trichlorfon) to kill insects such as grubs. Antimicrobials are also used to kill or inhibit the growth of microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi. One antimicrobial used in combination with synthetic turf infill is microban, an antibacterial product containing triclosan. Studies have increasingly linked triclosan (and its chemical cousin triclocarban), to a range of adverse health and environmental effects from skin irritation, endocrine disruption, bacterial and compounded antibiotic resistance, to the contamination of water and its negative impact on fragile aquatic ecosystems.

This mixture of toxic chemicals and their use on synthetic turf is particularly troubling because children, who are particularly at risk, come into direct contact with the grass, and have repeated and prolonged exposures. EPA concurs that children take in more pesticides relative to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxic chemicals. Even expectant moms on the sidelines are not safe; studies find that pesticides, such as the weed-killer 2,4-D, pass from mother to child through umbilical cord blood and breast milk.

While concerned parents and communities are headed in the right direction by considering the switch from carcinogenic crumb rubber to organic infill, it still is not the safest option due to the fact that dangerous, toxic pesticides and antimicrobials will still be used on synthetic turf, regardless of what is used as infill. Organic management is the best way to avoid exposure to these chemicals.

What Can You Do?

In areas that are suffering from drought, it can be a good to rethink the idea of what a “lawn” means. In Los Angeles, some turf companies are tearing out turf and replacing it with a drought-tolerant yard. Some companies and local governmental authorities are even offering incentives, such as rebates. What that means is that clients actually get paid for having someone come in to rip out their water-sucking lawns and replacing them with more native, low-water plants.

For other areas across the country where water use is not as much of an issue, organic turf systems are the best way to combat the health effects associated with synthetic turf systems. Organic turf management uses sound horticultural practices such as pH management, fertilization, aeration, overseeding with proper grass seed, and proper watering to control unwanted plants. Research has demonstrated that topdressing with compost suppresses some soil-borne fungal diseases just as well as conventional fungicides.

You do not have to be an expert on turf management or the health effects of every pesticide used on playing fields or lawns in order to make a change. What you do need to know is that children are being unnecessarily exposed to chemicals that impair their health, and that a safer, proven way exists to manage turf.

If you want to create positive  change in your community, visit our Tools for Change page, or give us a call at 202-543-5450.

Source: Los Angeles Times

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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  • Archives

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