LA City Council committee seeks study of possible ban on artificial turf

LA City Council committee seeks study of possible ban on artificial turf

When a Los Angeles City Council committee approved a motion calling for a feasibility study into a potential ban on artificial grass in L.A., Kelly Shannon McNeil, associate director of the nonprofit Los Angeles Waterkeeper, saw the move as an “incredibly positive step.”

The city council’s Energy and Environment Committee voted on June 28 to approve a study in order to understand the health impacts of artificial turf — a product that is widely used by schools, homeowners and many others, but which can contain synthetic chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

McNeil has spent years advocating for environmental and water resource causes, and she said the issue of PFAS and other “forever chemicals” is especially important to her as a mother of a two-year-old.

“We’re looking at all of the different ways we can limit exposure to PFAS in our communities and banning artificial turf would be an immediate opportunity to do so,” McNeil said.

Artificial turf is promoted as not requiring water like real grass — but artificial turf is sometimes watered to cool down the green plastic on hot, sunny days. It is being widely installed in residential yards, recreational areas and sports fields.

But Los Angeles city council members Bob Blumenfield and Katy Yaroslavsky, who introduced and seconded the motion, want to know if the health impacts of artificial turf outweigh the potential benefits.

Artificial turf on homes along Ingomar Street in West Hills, CA, on Monday, July 8, 2024. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

A low-water yard on Strathern Street in West Hills, CA, on Monday, July 8, 2024. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Artificial turf is promoted as a less water-costly alternative to traditional grass, and is used in some residential lawns, recreational areas and fields. The football field at El Camino Real in Woodland Hills on July 3, 2024. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

A low-water yard on Quimbly Street in West Hills, CA, on Monday, July 8, 2024. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

A low-water yard on Armenta Street in West Hills, CA, on Monday, July 8, 2024. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

A low-water yard on Ingomar Street in West Hills, CA, on Monday, July 8, 2024. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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In 2023, the state legislature passed SB 676, which allows local governments to ban artificial grass. The California cities of Millbrae and San Marino have since passed artificial turf bans.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency categorized PFAS and other “forever chemicals” as hazardous substances dangerous to human health, warning that exposure to PFAS could lead to reproductive effects and  developmental delays and could increase the risk of some cancers.

Encino resident Maria Solayzami’s lawn has been artificial turf for five years. She said the turf is helpful because it needs less maintenance and has cut her water bill. Solayzami said that when she switched to artificial turf, she didn’t know PFAS could be found in artificial grass. She has grown somewhat concerned in the years since.

“I like the aesthetic and it doesn’t use too much water,” Solayzami said. “I have three kids, so the chemicals, they have crossed my mind.”

In 2019, the EPA released a study that examined the safety of tire crumb rubber — recycled tire rubber used in artificial turf — and found that “although chemicals are present (as expected) in the tire crumb rubber, and exposures can occur, they are likely limited.” The study did not specifically test for PFAS.

Melanie Taylor, president and CEO of the Synthetic Turf Council, said in a letter to the L.A. City Council that “there are significant advantages to using synthetic turf, which is why schools, families, and communities across the nation are choosing to utilize it.”

The city council motion calls for the city to encourage a transition to “California drought-friendly landscaping.”

Patricia Bates, an Encino resident and the treasurer of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society, transitioned her grass lawn to native drought-tolerant plants three years ago—and said it was “a wonderful choice.”

“(Native plants) are amazing, and they provide habitat to all kinds of birds and pollinators and critters,” Bates said. “And I’m very pleased with the measure to move away from artificial grass.”

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Bates offset some of the costs of replacing her grass lawn through a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power rebate program.

DWP currently offers $5 per square foot to help residents replace their grass with “more sustainable, low-water-use landscapes.” The low-water landscape rebate maxes out at 5,000 square feet, which means DWP will reward you with a significant amount of money if you reimagine a typically-sized yard.

Shannon McNeil said she is hopeful that Los Angeles will eventually pass an artificial turf ban.

“We need to promote greening, real greening,” McNeil said. “Plants and shade and native habitats benefit everyone in the community.