If you have been reading this blog regularly over the last few months, you might come to the conclusion that I have an unhealthy obsession and aversion to grass (turf grass, that is). In the past, I have blogged about my aversion in keeping a groomed lawn, as well as the dangers that come from the hazardous amounts of lead found in synthetic turf. I don’t really have any significant hang-ups about lawns (other than the issues I previously noted) so I report the next bit of news with a fair hand, and as the completion of a trilogy on the utter obsolescence and apparent imperilment that is the current state of the American green space.
There is an alarming phenomenon that carries the disquieting moniker of the “Heat Island” effect that is attributed to heat absorbing artificial turf that gives off a distressing amount of surface sizzle. As if we need another culprit raising global temperatures, the heat trapping turf has been blamed for numerous skin burns as well as countless cases of heatstroke and dehydration. The NYC Health Department report says people can suffer dehydration, heatstroke and thermal burns on synthetic turf above 115 degrees. This is just the half of it, according to a recent NPR report, a recent experiment at Riverside Park in Manhattan revealed temperatures around 160 degrees above a field of synthetic turf. A hot topic, indeed!
Much of the reason synthetic turf has such startling heat seeking properties is due to the bits of recycled tires manufactures use to provide cushion for the turf. This feature provides a certain pleasurable bounce to the surface, along with the very impressive ability to par-boil your child’s extremities. New York City Parks Department has made the wise decision to move away from using recycled-tire rubber in new turf fields, but this does not correct, or even address, the existing fields of perilously hot turf citywide, as well as nationwide.
In an election year, with the economy on a perilous slide, and morale on a quick decent, this turf trauma may not be the issue ripe for petitions and protests. However, once we figure out how to fix all of the other domestic problems, maybe we could pass an initiative to pull up all the existing synthetic turf and replace it with something less speculative. Dare I say grass?
Until then, keep your kids off the turf-like grass.
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit, among other publications.