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July 3, 2022

Guest View: Many unanswered questions surrounding artificial turf

There are drought-tolerant, warm season turf grasses that are tougher, require less water/maintenance/fertilizer and, if maintained properly, will equal or exceed artificial grass in quality, safety and perhaps usability. Natural grass fields also have many other health and environmental benefits such as providing oxygen, carbon sink, natural air conditioning, breaking down organic matter, and helping children with social, emotional regulation.

So, before the Los Gatos Union School District board decides (April 21) whether to approve plastic (petrochemical derived) fields as part of field renovations, or renovate and keep all fields natural grass for its five TK-8 campuses, a critical question that needs answering is whether plastic grass, a.k.a. artificial turf, is even “safe” for our children who will attend these schools for up to 10 years.

• If a product is not regulated by state or federal agencies, is it “safe”?

• If long-term exposure to some chemicals detected in artificial turf is linked to developmental delays, accelerated puberty, decreased fertility, increased risk of some cancers, reduced immune system, etc., is it “safe”?

• If children’s environmental health experts say there may be a compounding effect in the presence of multiple chemicals, is this “safe”?

• If polyethylene microplastics could end up in our children’s blood, given they’ve recently been found in human blood for the first time, is this “safe”?

• If we are told by leading researchers that some of these toxic “forever chemicals” could soon be determined to have no safe level of exposure, is this “safe”?

• If all testing options to prove the absence of any potentially harmful chemicals in a product are not performed, is this “safe”?

• If artificial turf abrasions are common, painful, and at risk of antibiotic-resistant infections, is this “safe”?

• If children’s environmental health doctors question the impacts on children from long-term exposure to artificial turf materials and a district dismisses their recommendation to enact a moratorium on artificial turf until more research is done, is that “safe”? 

If the health of children and their environment are intrinsically linked:

• Is artificial turf “safe” for our environment and water supplies if it releases microplastics and “forever chemicals” for its entire life cycle from manufacture, throughout years of heavy use, UV-exposure, and weathering, to disposal when it’s incinerated or left to degrade in landfills and illegal dump sites?

• If the artificial turf industry develops new ingredients to make plastic seem safer and environmentally beneficial, like “bio-based” plastics, and those ingredients could contain chemicals from chemically grown crops, is this “safe”?

• Is it “safe” when artificial turf acts as a “heat island,” baking our school campuses and urban neighborhoods as heatwaves become more frequent, hotter and longer?

• Is it “safe” for the environment if artificial turf kills possibly all biodiversity both above and below ground leaving a toxic wasteland?

If artificial turf locks us in financially for generations:

• Is it “safe” for our district’s wallet if each artificial field costs around $2.5 million to install plus future millions in upper carpet layer replacements approximately every eight years and middle shock pad layer replacements approximately every 20 years?

• Is it “safe” to leave the district vulnerable to replacement pricing/products dictated by the artificial turf industry?

• If school funds are unavailable for multimillion-dollar replacements in future, is it “safe” to rely on bond measures, possibly saddled upon the very children using the artificial turf today?

If artificial turf is detrimental to our children’s environment, a potential mortgage on our children’s future, and potentially harmful to our children both now and well into the future, is this a “safe” choice for our children?

Leanne McAuliffe is a Los Gatos resident.