New CA law allows local governments to ban artificial grass, a source of environmental concerns

Fake grass looks good and unlike real grass, synthetic lawns don’t turn brown and don’t need water. But, looks can be deceiving.

Steven Flores said before this week, he wasn’t aware that artificial grass – which he sometimes plays on – is the source of environmental and health concerns.

“To be honest, I just enjoy playing. So whether it’s on turf or street,” Flores said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that allows local governments to ban synthetic grass in residential areas. This reverses part of a 2015 bill that stripped them of that power.

“We made a decision at a time when the drought was so acute,” said the bill’s author, California State Sen. Ben Allen (D-Redondo Beach.) “I think it was a rash decision, quite frankly. I understand why we did it.”

At the root of some of these concerns are some chemicals like PFAS, also commonly referred to as “forever chemicals.”

“One of the things we have found is that there are some really dangerous carcinogens that are often found in synthetic turf,” said Allen.

Many researchers link these substances to serious health issues like kidney problems, cancer, and decreased immune system functions. PFAS can be found in food, water systems, and are very resistant to breaking down. Research is ongoing to understand how much exposure can lead to specific problems.

Allen, a former school board member, said he understands why schools may prefer synthetic grass and admits he plays soccer on it, but he wants to ensure local communities have a say.

“There are different types of synthetic turf out there. Some are better than others. I would say that there are things that cities and school districts can do to lessen the likelihood that there’s environmental impact,” said Allen.

Other concerns include plastic pollution in water runoff and extreme heat. Synthetic options tend to heat up significantly more than natural alternatives.

“I’m just glad that we’ve now set the set the balance straight and now cities and counties can make this decision that’s in the best interest of their local needs and communities,” said Allen.

Some cities have started moving in that direction. The City of San Marino established a temporary moratorium precluding the artificial turf.

“We are presently considering extending the moratorium so that we can review the new law and make a decision on what to do,” Steve Talt, city city’s mayor, told Eyewitness News.

“Our residents, who take great pride in the look of their neighborhoods, are generally opposed to the use of artificial turf in front yard landscaping for a variety of reasons, the least of which is the aesthetics of some of the products and because, while they may save water, they also create other environmental issues that have not been fully explored,” said Talt.

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