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Artificial Grass Versus The Real Thing

 width= With the growing trend for installing artificial grass in gardens, and artificial or astro turf as a playing surface for various sports, you might be wondering if this is a progressive step in the right direction. Or could it be the cause of yet another set of toxins for us all to deal with?
Let's see if we can throw a little light on the subject...

How is artificial turf made?

Artificial turf is made up of three major parts:
  1. Backing material that provides the base to hold the individual blades of artificial grass.
  2. The plastic blades themselves.
  3. The infill - those tiny black crumbs that help support the blades.
Various pigments are used to provide the green color of the blades. For sport playing surfaces, these can include lead or titanium for the white lines while other metals are used for any school logos on the field. That infill made of little black crumbs are an environmental problem. They are made from old tires and we all know that tires can be toxic. Modern tires are a mixture of natural and synthetic rubber, carbon black (a material made from petroleum) and between four and ten gallons of petroleum products. And if that is not enough, tires also contain metals such as cadmium, lead (a neurotoxic) and zinc. Some of the chemicals in tires, such as dibenzopyrenes, are known carcinogens while tires have spent many years on a mixture of road surfaces, possibly being exposed to various substances which in turn can be absorbed on the carbon black in the tires.

Artificial turf does not remain static

  • Many will think that having artificial grass is easy because it does not have to be mowed.
  • However, crab grass and other weeds can take a hold and start growing. To keep that perfect appearance, weedkillers will need to be applied which of course come with their own set of problems.
  • In addition, artificial turf is often treated with biocides. This is because the turf has been associated with an increased risk of infections from Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) which can be dangerous because it is resistant to many antibiotics. Left unchecked, it can lead to pneumonia, sepsis and bloodstream infections that can prove fatal. For your information, an MRSA infection can occur when skin is scraped or cut. Although rare, this can happen when sliding on artificial turf. Sports people have a habit of sliding across the turf on their knees to celebrate a goal. The biocides themselves can also have toxic side effects. A biocide is defined as a chemical substance or microorganism intended to destroy, deter, render harmless or exert a controlling effect on any harmful organism by chemical or biological means.

But that is not all

  • If you live in a warm climate, you might not be aware that sports fields and gardens with artificial turf can get much hotter than natural grass, with temperatures reaching as high as 200 degrees F. Even when wearing sports shoes, children's feet can suffer burns.
  • The manufacturers of artificial turf recommend spraying sports fields with water to keep temperatures lower although there is a time limit on how long any cooling remedy will last.
  • Artificial turf is laid either on concrete or compacted earth making it a harder surface than grass and increasing the risk of injuries - particularly concussion.
  • Those tiny particles from tires are a cause for concern. They become even smaller over time, small enough to be suspended in the air above the turf as a small dust cloud and possibly inhaled or swallowed by those using the area.
  • Sportsmen and sportswomen who have to use astro turf are advised to consider adding some extra exercise to strengthen their knees and ankles to create more stability and lessen the chance of injury in a fall or slide. They are also advised to clean and bandage scrapes or turf burns before they have a chance to get infected.

The case for regular and more natural grass

We all know that there is far too much plastic in our world already - why would we want even more! If the climate is temperate, what could be more natural and attractive than real grass? What else smells as good as freshly mowed lawn? If caught in a grass box attached to the mower, grass cuttings make an excellent organic material for adding to the compost supply. It can take a little extra care and attention (e.g. regular feeding and cutting) but if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Regular grass cutting provides an excellent form of exercise. Well kept grassy areas do not need weedkiller. Some areas can be allowed to grow wilder to encourage wild flowers, insects, bees and butterflies. Grass can be very forgiving even if it has to endure some drought conditions. One good day of rain soon brings it back to its former glory. If you don't have real grass, it is less easy to practice the habit of grounding or earthing. Walking barefoot on lush, green grass is always a good experience. Real grass is considerably more beneficial to the soil and the wildlife beneath - bacteria, earth worms and moles for example.
Many scientists are concerned about this modern "tire compound" being a first choice of material for children to play on. Parents should not have to worry about yet even more toxins being present in their every day lives. Let's stick to the real thing whenever we can!