Artificial turf may soon be illegal to install in Millbrae, at least for a period of time, with the City Council citing environmental concerns and the need to establish permanent rules surrounding the landscaping material often seen as a low maintenance and low water use alternative to real grass.

The move comes amid a worsening drought in the state leading many residents to seek alternate yard treatments that require less water. But according to experts, the environmental drawbacks of artificial turf likely outweigh the upsides. The city is now seeking a moratorium on the installation of the plastic material until permanent guidelines on its use can be researched and established.

“In the short term, however long it might take staff to research this, artificial turf is going to continue to go up,” Mayor Ann Schneider said. “Our yards are being cemented and slapped with artificial turf, right now.”

Among concerns are increased heat, reduced water absorption and toxic runoff from disintegrating plastic — problems that could exacerbate climate issues often linked with drought. 

“You have in the case of a field … baked, sealed, compressed dirt that is completely dead underneath,” said Diana Conway, president of Safe Healthy Playing Fields, a volunteer organization that advocates against artificial turf. “That means not only is there no worm or bee activity, you have no runoff capacity, you have no water infiltration capacity, you have no carbon sink that you would have with grass.”

Additionally, artificial turf is 30% to 60% hotter than ambient temperatures on a warm sunny day, Conway said, further noting that 11 high school athletes have died in the United States on the turf from exertional heat stroke in the past eight months. 

Also called into question was the recyclability of artificial turf. According to Conway, it is not recyclable, despite frequent claims to the contrary. 

The city’s moratorium is aimed primarily at residential uses, and would not affect high schools, which have increasingly used it to coat playing fields. Councilmembers did discuss reaching out to state lawmakers to gain more information on what can or is being done on the state level. 

Though the council stopped short of approving a moratorium during its meeting Tuesday, a draft of such a policy was requested and will likely be voted on at its next meeting in two weeks. Millbrae would likely be the first city in the state to move forward with a moratorium on the turf, noted City Manager Tom Williams, though many cities do have rules surrounding its use.

In Millbrae, it is already illegal to have more than 40% of the yard of a single-family residence paved. It was noted that some residents have taken to paving yards for similar reasons artificial turf would be applied, as well as for additional parking. It is also possible that residents, if code enforcement action is taken against them for paving, could attempt to cover cement with artificial turf.

The moratorium would apply only to new applications, existing uses would be allowed pending possible future guidelines. 

In other business, the council approved a new flag policy for those flown on city flag poles. 

The new policy will allow for flags representing Black History Month in February, Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, Pride Month in June, Hispanic Heritage Month in September, Native American Heritage Month in November, as well as Memorial Day and Veterans Day. 

Special requests other than those listed would go to the City Council for approval.

“We do receive multiple requests from the public to display commemorative flags,” Williams said.

The policy was noted in a presentation by staff to be consistent with the city’s guiding principles, incorporating “diversity, equity, social justice and inclusion as an expression of the city’s official sentiments.”

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(3) comments

aball52

my husband loves playing on grass outfield in 115degrees he crosses the dirt to a grassy cool down in the outfield grass . turf not found just about 30 degrees hotter in the field all over..

aball52

Thank you for all the facts listed about the dangers of artificial turf..trying to tell some people is like talking to a wall. I used my husband playing in Twolemne on a field at 115 degrees turf . possibly a heart attack for the scorekeeper..plus more heart problems. too much for the newbies playing on this turf to realize comprehend. glad to see some facts. I they were there thanks for sharing. high school injuries knees ankles prevail also. yet.. they still save money risking the health of players.

BenToy

Agree with all of the issues & negatives listed by the Millbrae council (even though high school buddy is a millionaire living in Black Hawk because of his early entry into artificial turf) and add =

If a city has banned plastic bags, then the logical move to ban artificial turf. Thousands of pounds of plastic that will clog our dumps, turn into micro plastic to pollute our oceans, that then return to infect our food chain and a recent news article about baby poop testing now finds too much micro plastic.

Yes, death to the soil underneath and also a breeding ground for nasty’s that normal, living grass would find as food/fertilizer…that then creates a natural environment for beneficial bugs/worms/etc.

Discovered while visiting grandson in South Calif during his soccer game. Several mom’s were yelling at fathers for smoking on the side lines. Some were smoking out on the field before & after the game.

Asked what the heck and they said embers or tossed live butts melt the plastic to form knots that have sharp edges. That then scrapes and/or cuts players sliding on the turf.

Then they really got into it by saying that since a holding area for organics (poop, urine, upchuck, food, etc…who as a kid hasn’t thrown up while playing on a field) that rots where natural grass would ‘eat it up’ as fertilizer.

MRSA was high on their minds. As there were reports of kids developing it and they really don’t know where, but it made sense to them & me.

All artificial turf has a short life span. Where it has to be replaced every few years. IIRC…‘Cheap’ ones around 3-5 years to ‘Expensive’ ones around 10 years.

Not just the turf, but replaced down to ‘dirt’. Meaning the underlayment has to also go, as synthetic like turf and holding whatever to rot in it.

Turf OEM’s all say they ‘recycle’, but few do and haul it to special plastic disposal (HazMat) sites. As paying to dump it there is less than recycling…at this time.

Every turf OEM sites have researched all say there needs to be ‘weed control’, as airborne & bird droppings will have seeds that then grow into the turf. Where there is settled dust (SMOG, dirt, etc) that will have enough food to support weeds.

One OEM still recommends treating artificial turf with Round-Up weed control.

Finally, turf, just like rugs require cleaning to remove organic matter & settled dirt/dust/smog. That means vacuuming just like indoor rugs. Home turf sized look like shop vacuums and large fields look like Zamboni’s

IMHO, the ‘cost savings’ is a false analysis because the whole life cycle isn’t considered.

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