Turf Wars

June 10, 2009

Grass

By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director

We've been asked in the past of our opinion on synthetic turf, and I don't always know what
to say.

On one hand, it reduces maintenance costs, provides for year-round playability
(keeping kids active), provides padded surfaces, reduces water and pesticide use
(as does using integrated pest management on a natural field), improves drainage, and no conclusive
research seems to exist showing a connection between artificial turf and chronic or acute health issues. Of course, researchers have identified lead in
some artificial fields, but at levels that would not be considered unsafe.

On the other hand, there are real concerns: The heat island effect can raise
temperatures on a synthetic field to unsafe levels, synthetic fields are made
with materials that contain toxic chemicals and there are many unknowns around
these types of exposures. There have been no real tests as to levels of off-gassings of VOCs and, of course, synthetic fields have higher upfront costs.

In short, more research has to be done on what these exposures really mean to
children. In the meantime, given the choice, I'd prefer my son to play on a
natural grass field. I wouldn't prohibit him from playing on synthetic, but given the choice, I would encourage my school use a natural grass field.

This past weekend I was able to run around on a new synthetic field for the first time. I must admit, it was easy on the knees, it looked great, and in the light drizzle, the kids were able to continue to play because of the excellent drainage. But it did have an odor of playing on rubber. I just want my son to enjoy the outdoors, and playing on synthetic
turf just doesn't seem like the outdoors to me. As soccer mom Beatriz Salgado said,
“In the summer, you can really smell it. It smells like tar.”