Are you considering installing artificial grass in your yard or on your sports field?
Before you do, it’s important to understand the potential health and environmental risks associated with this popular alternative to natural grass.
From toxic chemicals to excessive heat, there are a number of concerns that have been raised by scientists and environmental groups.
In this article, we’ll explore the facts and myths surrounding artificial grass and help you make an informed decision about whether it’s the right choice for you.
So, let’s dive in and discover the truth about whether artificial grass is toxic or not.
Is Artificial Grass Toxic
Artificial grass, also known as synthetic turf, has become increasingly popular in recent years as a low-maintenance alternative to natural grass. However, concerns have been raised about the potential health risks associated with this type of turf.
One of the main concerns is the presence of toxic chemicals in the artificial grass infill, blades, and backing. Studies have shown that some types of artificial turf can contain heavy metals and chemicals that are linked to an increased risk of cancer. Additionally, lab tests have revealed that many types of artificial turf contain highly toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.
Children are particularly vulnerable to these chemicals due to their developing bodies and the persistence of PFAS in the body. Exposure can occur through touching or swallowing the crumbled rubber pellets that make up the backing, or possibly from breathing chemicals that off-gas into the air.
Furthermore, the disposal of discarded artificial turf is a major environmental concern. It’s difficult to recycle and dispose of this type of turf, which can lead to chemical runoff and microplastic pollution.
What Is Artificial Grass?
Artificial grass is a synthetic alternative to natural grass that is made from plastic materials. It is typically composed of plastic blades that are designed to look and feel like real grass, as well as a backing material that provides stability and support. The blades are typically made from the same type of plastic that is used in common household products, and there have been no proven harmful effects associated with this material.
However, concerns have been raised about the potential health risks associated with the chemicals used in the manufacturing process of some types of artificial turf. These chemicals can include heavy metals and fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, which can be harmful if ingested or inhaled.
Despite these concerns, artificial turf remains a popular choice for many homeowners and businesses due to its low maintenance requirements and water-saving benefits. It’s important to weigh the potential risks against the benefits when considering whether to install artificial grass.
The Chemicals Used In Artificial Grass
The chemicals used in artificial grass include heavy metals and other toxic substances found in the rubber infill that is made from shredded tires. These substances have been shown to pose serious health risks, including an increased risk of cancer. Additionally, lab tests have revealed the presence of highly toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS in both the blades and backing of artificial turf.
PFAS are used in the manufacturing process to make the turf blades pliable enough for extrusion. These chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they accumulate in the body and do not break down. PFAS have been linked to lower childhood immunity, endocrine disruption, and cancer.
Moreover, synthetic turf needs to be replaced every eight to ten years, creating a significant disposal problem. Disposing of discarded turf is difficult, and it’s not clear how or even if it’s recycled, despite industry association recycling guidelines. The disposal of artificial grass can lead to chemical runoff and microplastic pollution, which can harm the environment.
Potential Health Risks For Humans And Animals
The potential health risks associated with artificial grass are not limited to humans, but also extend to animals. Invertebrates exposed to crumb rubber, which is often used as infill, have shown risks to their habitats. Additionally, chicken eggs injected with crumb rubber leachate have shown impaired development and endocrine disruption.
While there have been limited human epidemiology studies conducted related to artificial turf, studies have shown that chemicals identified in artificial turf, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phthalates, and PFAS, are known carcinogens, neurotoxicants, mutagens, and endocrine disruptors. Exposure to these chemicals can lead to health issues such as cancer, developmental delays, and reproductive problems.
Moreover, the disposal of artificial turf can also harm wildlife and their habitats. The accumulation of discarded turf can lead to soil contamination and the release of harmful chemicals into the environment.
Environmental Concerns With Artificial Grass
Artificial grass poses several environmental concerns that cannot be ignored. One major issue is the loss of wildlife habitat, as synthetic turf does not provide a suitable environment for insects and other organisms that are essential to maintaining healthy soil. This can lead to a decline in biodiversity in the surrounding area.
Another concern is the potential for contaminated runoff. Zinc and other harmful contaminants have been found in stormwater runoff from artificial turf, which can be harmful to aquatic life. Additionally, infill particles and broken synthetic grass fibers can migrate away from yards or playing fields, contributing to microplastic pollution.
Artificial turf also has a significant impact on the temperature of the surrounding area. It can become much hotter than natural grass on a warm day, which can lead to potentially life-threatening heat-related illnesses for users, especially athletes. Studies have measured high temperatures on artificial turf, some as high as 160oF.
The Debate Over Recyclability And Disposal
The debate over the recyclability and disposal of artificial grass is another important aspect to consider. Critics argue that artificial turf is non-recyclable, and once it is laid, you have to deal with the fallout of it being in our ecosystem for a lifetime. Artificial grass can last for decades, but once this time is up, does it have to go to landfill?
However, not all synthetic or artificial grasses are created equal. In fact, some are made from recyclable materials. And, while the backing/tuft bound is the only portion that isn’t recyclable, it can be easily melted down to make new goods. Some companies also accept old turf back to recycle themselves so the product can be reused. Recyclability is a concern when you consider artificial turf, so it is worth considering your options.
It’s also important to note that the disposal of natural grass also has its own environmental impact. Grass clippings are reported as the third largest component of municipal solid waste in landfills. Additionally, natural grass requires significant amounts of water and fertilizer to maintain its appearance, which can contribute to pollution and environmental degradation.
Ultimately, the debate over the recyclability and disposal of artificial grass highlights the need for more sustainable and environmentally-friendly options in both natural and synthetic turf. It’s important for consumers to do their research and consider the potential environmental impact of their choices.
Alternatives To Artificial Grass
If you’re looking for an alternative to artificial grass, there are several options available that are low-maintenance, practical, and functional. One great option is Kurapia, a ground cover that stays low and is cool and comfortable to walk on. It requires little to no maintenance and can be mowed monthly for a yoga mat-like feel. Kurapia is only sold online and shipped directly to your home or business.
Another option is succulents, which are easy to maintain and come in a variety of colors and shapes. They require little watering and can be propagated to grow more in another area of your yard or in a container. However, they should not be planted in high-traffic areas as they can get trampled on.
Gravel is another alternative to a grass lawn that comes in a wide range of stone types, including crushed granite, stone pebbles, river rocks, decomposed granite, and pea gravel. It offers color and texture variety, availability, price range from inexpensive to high-end, and durability. Stone-based materials do not attract bugs, do not decompose due to the elements, and are long-lasting. However, over time, gravel will start to sink into the soil.
If you’re looking for a living alternative to grass that requires less irrigation, mowing, weeding, and still allows for foot traffic and play, consider buffalo grass. UC Verde buffalo grass was developed by UC Davis specifically for California gardens. It is extremely drought-tolerant, requiring only 1/4 the water needs of traditional lawn grasses, grows slowly to an ultimate height of 4-6″, and requires much less mowing than a standard lawn. It is also virtually pollen-free and native so less issues with fertilizers and pesticides.
Perhaps the best alternative to grass would be synthetic or artificial grass—also known as turf. You get the same look and texture as natural grass without any of the extensive maintenance. One of the biggest selling points for turf is that it can’t grow or wither, which translates to a yard as fresh and perfectly manicured as the day it was installed. There are typically three types of synthetic grass to consider: nylon, polypropylene, and polyethylene. Nylon is perhaps the best choice for lawns that are expecting a lot of wear and tear i.e. foot traffic, children playing, the occasional vehicle, etc. It’s durable, able to maintain its shape, and can withstand extreme temperatures. Polyethylene is a bit softer, but it’s arguably the most vibrant of the three. It can also hold its own against foot traffic, although not as well as nylon. Polypropylene is the cheapest of all three, but is not as resilient or as colorfully rich as its counterparts.