Turf Wars: Part 3

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.


Eliza D.
Past Member 8 years ago

This is a great post that lays it out the way I've seen it for 30 years in the beltway, across administrations of both parties. I wish the Obama CTO very well and know we need a person in this slot, but an outsider will be consumed by turf wars from day one. And to complicate matters, very few insiders could tackle this post. Look for folks like Dr. Winter or Alan Balutis or Bob Gourley or Dawn Meyerriecks or Harry Raduege. Dawn is especially highly regarded.

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Kathleen M.
Kathleen M.8 years ago

Plastic turf is a mid 20th century solution to abused poorly maintained grass fields. 21st century grass field installation and maintanance is what is needed. As noted, plastic itself (artificial turf is essentially a plastic shag rug with tire crumbs swept in between the tufts ) heats up to unsafe levels in the sun (just put a piece of green or other dark plastic in the sun and feel it then feel real grass). Check out www.synturf.org for a compendium of information on synthetic turf. Most recently Artificial turf companies have settled with the state of California to get the lead out of FUTURE fields in a future year IN CALIFORNIA ONLY. That leaves children playing on the rest of the thousands of fields in the country unprotected against lead as well as other known toxins. There are NO federal regulations on plastic turf (or the tire crumbs used as infill and playground surface) because the industry has mangaged to get itself exempted from being categorized as a "children's product" which means no testing for lead or other toxins.

For alternatives to turfgrass try native vegetation alternatives or organically maintained turfgrass. Parks Director Alex Palluzzi of Branford CT is the leader with many others following in creating durable safe playing fields with good installation and organic management.

Vural K.
Past Member 8 years ago


Marykay L.
Marykay L9 years ago

Why is it that the materials are used first and tested later? I think we need to have some environmentalists join the city planning boards and some parents too!