BY REECE PASCOE
When the Palisades High School Football team played El Camino Real High on August 19, CTN learned that all of ECR games would have to be played away because of trouble with the school’s Astroturf.
According to an August 13, 2002 L.A.Times Story (”El Camino Real Closes Field Because of Defective All-Weather Turf”) “its all-weather turf field was melting and ending up stuck on shoes, El Camino Real High School has shut down the field to all contact sports use and will replace it with a new field. This is the second time ECR has had trouble with melting turf materials after it was replaced in 2010.
“This is the latest defective all-weather turf field paid for by LAUSD. Fremont also has its field shut down this season. Crenshaw had similar issues with its field last year.”
With the drought and increased tension about the water supply, turf has been pushed as one of the solutions. It has been touted as the ideal method for lawn and fields, as being cheaper and better for the environment, but is it?
There are three problems with this artificial substance: health, environmental and economic.
Astroturf has the health risks involved with it compared to its counterpart, sod.
The first is the plastics used to make the Astroturf. The problem is that there is no requirement to test the Astroturf before its sold, which may lead to short cuts ie. used tires as pellets.
If one wanted to find out what the Astroturf is made of, its classified as a trade secret. So, it’s impossible to find out what chemicals are used unless one goes to a third party to test it. Some possible chemicals are arsenic, lead, zinc, and voc (volatile organic compounds), which are just a cocktail of chemicals which can cause cancer and other health problems.
The rate of injuries sustained on Astroturf is of higher frequency and of greater extent. Tears of the PCL (back of the knee) happen at a ratio of 3/1, all ankle injuries are 1.5/.8, and concussions are at a greater severity. There are also injuries due to the higher temperatures like heat stroke, and turf burn.
Based on NFL injury data collected from 2012 to 2018, NFL players consistently experienced a much higher rate of non-contact lower extremity injuries on turf compared to natural surfaces.
Players have a 28% higher rate of non-contact lower extremity injuries when playing on artificial turf. Of those non-contact injuries, players have a 32% higher rate of non-contact knee injuries on turf and a 69% higher rate of non-contact foot/ankle injuries on turf compared to grass.
Though Astroturf may seem beneficial, the cons seem too far out-weigh the pros, especially here in SoCal. In the past decade there have been at least five high school Astroturf fields that have melted (the black pellets congeal).
The Astroturf is made up of plastics that to a large part cannot be recycled. When Astroturf is being replaced or undergoes any form of maintenance all related plastics go directly to a land fill.
Another problem is the little black pellets that are used in combination with Astroturf, are in large part made from old tires. These pellets always find a way outside the field due to rain or hitchhiking in one’s shoe, which contributed to local plastic pollution.
Astroturf contributes to the Island Effect.
The Island effect happens in urbanized areas that become warmer than the surrounding environment, this is practically true to Astroturf. The heat from the day gets trapped in the turf and reaches temperatures much higher then surrounding areas. It can reach up to 160 Fahrenheit during the day and that heat carries over into the nighttime. Playing on turf in the valley during summer is the absolute the worst, it gets so hot that shoes start to melt.
Grass or trees help cool the environment, Astroturf heats it up.
Costs that have to be factored with Astroturf is installation and maintenance.
“Trade associations and Social warfare groups spent $535 million on disclosed lobbying and $675 million on unregulated efforts to influence public policy, including strategic consulting, advertisement, media relations, social media posts, polling, and funding for astroturfing.” (John Keenan)
It is hard to get an accurate cost of turf due to many factors. The first is the rebates, write-offs, and tax-funded programs. Even though the organization or persons paying for the turf may not have any cost for the first ten years it does not mean its free, it has been paid with taxpayer’s money.
The second is the type of Astroturf compared to the type of grass, both with separate costs involved with the upkeep.
The third factor is water cost, most notably in desserts where water costs are high.
Even with all factors accounted for there was a study done in Montgomery County, Maryland, and the price of Astroturf was 50% higher compared to grass on a 20-year timeline.
The average cost of Astroturf $4.5-10.25 per square foot and with grass $1.25-5 per square foot. (Sports turf managers association).
Now, EL Camino Real High School’s Astroturf is melting again. Reminder: real grass doesn’t melt.